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Karakul sheep and karakul pelts
Karakul breed of sheep appeared hundreds of years ago on desert pastures around the Kara - Kul, or Black lake, near ancient Bukhara. Arab historian Ibn - Haukal was the first to use the term "karakul" in 978 AD. Karakul sheep is really a miracle. It drinks water so salty nothing else will accept. It regulates its breathing rate and blood corpuscle count according to the air temperature. It does not damage the desert pastures of Uzbekistan that take up 20 million hectares or nearly 50% of Uzbekistan. The desert is the first and main regulator of lamb lives and deaths. Temperatures in the Kyzylkum vary from 50 degrees above zero to 30 below. Plants are so coarse that only born survivors like camel, nannies, and karakul sheep find them sufficiently sustaining.
A newborn karakul lamb takes its first steps on desert sand speckled with dung pellets and fresh grass; its curls form a ridged pattern as unique as human fingerprints. In a few days, the curls will unfurl and get rough, turning the precious karakul pelt into cheep sheepskin. That is why the lamb will be slaughtered before the first sunset of its life. At dawn lambs are herded to the slaughterhouse, where men butcher them and peel the pelts "like a stocking".
The lambs' ten - pound bodies will be utilized too meat cooked as a low - fat delicacy, hooves processed for glue, maw sold to cheese makers or pharmaceutical companies.
When sheep is already 6 - 7 years old, its teeth are worn down to stumps by coarse fodder. It then begets her last lamb - source of krimmer. This is the most precious kind of karakul whose undeveloped fur resembles wet silk. Sheep is slaughtered a fortnight before it is due. Fetus is retrieved and skinned, and the rest is processed into bone flour for poultry and pigs.
Pelts are processed, mostly manually. Men and women sitting on the ground outside the slaughterhouse rub the pelts clean with knives and scrapers. Then, the pelts are pickled in coarse salt and heaped on wooden scaffolds. For a week, fat and other fluids leach out, coloring the salt pink. Then they are dried and fermented with barley flour in a rotating barrel filled with tepid water.
After another cleaning and grading by size, pattern and tint, the pelts are dispatched to a sewing factory or state - affiliated export companies.
Velvet - thin and suede - soft, it came in a range of colors from black to platinum, rose and even lilac with names like "Sundown", "Candlelight", and "Apricot Flower".
Karakul for Bukhara was what silk was for China. Until early twentieth century, the rulers of Bukhara held world monopoly on production and export of their golden fleece. The pelts were exported via Iran or Astrakhan, a town on the Volga River. Hence the Western names - Persian lamb or astrakhan.
The last Bukhara emir recklessly gave a herd of karakul sheep to the British ambassador in 1907 as a present. The British promptly shipped it to Namibia where it became known as swakara, or Southwest African Karakul.
Currently, Uzbekistan is the second largest manufacturer of karakul fur in the world these days, while other Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan lag far behind. Pelts from Uzbekistan go at $18 wholesale (swakara or Southwest African Karakul at $24). Fur coats, each of them made of 30 pelts and more, go at hundreds and thousands dollars.
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