THE MEANING OF OKRA AND CABBAGE IN TURKISH ART
After the defeat in the battle of Ankara with Timur in 1402, the important role of horsemanship in warfare became clear to the Ottomans. Çelebi Sultan Mehmed (Sultan Mehmet I (r. 1413-1421) retreated to Amasya. Having observed the shortcoming of his cavalrymen in combat, he understood their mistakes. To improve the combat skills of the cavalry, he chose 200 cavalrymen each from Amasya and Merzifon and began training them in Suluova between the two cities. At that time, his 14 year-old son, Murad II, was serving as governor in Amasya. Half of them trained in the name of Çelebi Mehmed and the other half in the name of the young prince, Murad. It was necessary to name the two competing teams; because Amasya was famous for its okra (bamya), and Merzifon for its cabbage (lahana), Çelebi Mehmed’s team was named Bamyacı and the other team, Lahanacı. After this period, the teams’ spirits appear to have become a tradition passed down from the sultan’s fathers to their sons. One could describe the Lahana and Bamya associations as the Ottoman equivalent of today’s sports clubs. In days of ceremony days, two guards named Lahanacı and Bamyacı honorably stood in front of the gate of Topkapı Palace.
To encourage the interest of the princes, the okra and cabbage shapes were used to embellish everything from their residences to the weaponry of sultans and princes until the 19th century. Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807) decorated the motif of cabbage on the top of the monumental stone which was made of marble in the memory of his shot in 1791. Similarly, Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839) also decorated the motif of okra on the top of the monumental stone which was built in the memory of his shot in 1811. Sultan Selim III made a poem “İlhamı” to show his love to the Lahana team . The symbols of the Lahanacılar and Bamyacılar were decorated together on a hearth in the apartments of the Princes (Şehzadegân) in the Harem of the Topkapı Palace. (Fig. 1 and 2) On the butt of the rifle inside a round medallion, bearing the name of Mahmud II in Topkapı Palace, can be seen an okra motif in gold relief, indicating his support of the Bamya team . (Fig. 3)
Some selected examples (please click on pictures to enlarge):