Friday, June 11, 2010

Brides of the Arab World: Comoros and Djibouti


Sahari na Subaiya
One of the earliest outfits worn specifically for Comoran weddings, the "sahari na soubaiya" consists of two rectangular pieces of striped cotton edged in trim. One piece is tied around the body; the other is draped over the head. The most impressive part of the costume, however, is not shown: Comoran brides are typically adorned in extravagant gold jewelry, including a very heavy necklace.
The Union of Comoros is but three small islands with a population of about 650,000, yet not only do wedding traditions vary within the archipelago, they also vary from one part of an island to another. the festivities known as the 'grand mariage' are emblematic of the country. Lasting anywhere from nine days to several weeks or longer, they attract guests from throughout the island. There are no invitations, everyone is welcome to feast and celebrate. these events-- which often cost the equivalent of several years salary-- give the groom a social status (mdrumdzima) that allows him to take his place among the local notables.


Somali Direh
The Afars and Somalis are the leading ethnic groups in Djibouti. The "direh" is worn by Somalis on numerous occasions, including weddings. It consists of a long, billowing dress made of chiffon or other light fabric that is worn over a long petticoat or slip. The outfit, which comes in many different colors, is completed with a matching headscarf.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Brides of the Arab World: Sudan and Tunisia

All of these images and the text were showcased at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC from February 23-March 15, 2009.
I took the pictures and typed out the text in the exhibit.


Red Wedding Dress
Throughout Sudan, the traditional wedding gown is bright red, a color that is believed to ward off the evil eye. The bridal outfit includes a knitted black silk cap (jedla) ward under a gold cal (tageia) and gold ornaments such as a necklace, a belt, a bracelet and ring combination (kaff) and numerous anklets (hujul). The items displayed here are costume wedding jewelry, but such accessories are usually made of solid gold. Worn exclusively at weddings, they are valuable heirlooms handed down from one generation to the next.


Mahdia Wedding Costume
Brides in Mahdia, in eastern Tunisia, don this style of costume the day they are adorned with henna. Known as "qmejja et farmla guli," it has been worn since the early 20th century and exhibits influences form the Turkish, Andalusian and Fatimid dynasties: the pants are embroidered with sequins evoking fish scales (Mahdia was long a fishing center), the blouse is richly embroidered with paisley and floral motifs, and the gold embroidered tunic and matching headdress are meant to shine like the sun. This ensemble is very heavy, signifying the bride's weighty commitment to being a good wife.

Moknine Wedding Costume

Tunisian brides in the Sahel region, particularly in the city of Moknine, have worn this type of costume since the early 20th century. Called a "hrem sehli", it takes its name from the "hrem de hadj), the dress worn for the "hadj" pilgrimage. The various pieces of this complex ensemble reflect the many cultural influences- Jewish, Berber, Phoenician, Roman, Turkish, Arab- that have shaped the Sahel, which has been a crossroads.
The "hrem sehli" is typically black or burgundy silk embroidered with fine gold thread in an arabesque pattern. The bride wears it with a laish assortment of jewelry and an impressive headpiece consisting of a velvet "coufia" topped with a "gta", a rectangle of stiff, gold embroidered fabric.

Hammamet Wedding Costume
The bride wears this kind of caftan on the day henna is applied to her hands and feet. It is hand embroidered with gold thread and involves so much work that young girls typically begin to make their wedding dresses at age 15. Of Turkish origin, the outfit includes a long, collarless velvet tunic that is open in the front. The sleeves are embroidered with gold thread in shapes such as fish or the Hand of Fatma (to ward off the evil eye). Needlework in white silk thread decorates the cotton pants, and the blouse is embelished with Richelieu cut work embroidery.
The caftan is typically topped with a "tegeia" a richly embroidered headpiece decorated with gemstones, coral, pearls and fringe. The bride also wears gold or silver ankle bracelets that are often part of the dowry from her husband.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Brides of the Arab World: Mauritania and Libya

The Arabesque Festival: Brides of the Arab World- Mauritania and Libya


Moorish Wedding Dress
Since pre-colonial times, women in northern Mauritania have worn outfits such as this one for their wedding. Traditionally, the fabric is dyed with indigo, which is not only associated with good fortune but also offers protection from the sun. The color is also suitably subdued, as ostentatious hues are not considered appropriate. To complete the outfit the bride wears an "essabeh", a piece of jewelry draped across the forehead.

Haalpulaar Wedding Dress
The Haalpular, also known as the Toucouleurs, are among the ethnic groups that originally lived in southern Mauritania, near the border with Senegal. Still worn today, this dress style goes back to the days before the French colonized the country in the late 19th century. Originally such garments were made from white hand woven fabric; later, they were colored with organic dyes. Today, fabrics are machine women but are still hand dyed with natural pigments, in particular indigo, which is thought to bring good luck. Brides also wear a special braided hairstyle incorporating gold rings--the richer the bride, the more rings.


Tripoli Wedding Costume
Wedding dress styles vary throughout Libya-- in Tripoli, the capital, dresses are worn long; elsewhere n the country, they are shorter to show off gold- embroidered pant legs. In southern desert areas, dark cottons are common, whereas pale silks prevail to the north. Made of silk with silver and gold embroidery, this outfit features a dress and scarf along with a colorful beaded blouse, matching pants and a crystal-beaded vest with gold buttons. It is a recent reproduction of a traditional style still worn by Libyan brides.

Brides of the Arab World: Egypt

Arabesque Festival: Brides of the Arab World- Egypt

I went to this amazing exhibition in DC at the Kennedy Center in 2009. The Arabesque festival ran from February 23-March 15, and showcased an amazing exhibit on wedding gowns from all over the Arab world. I obtained a written account of all of the descriptions of the gowns, and took pictures of all of them. They are amazing and I hope these pictures and descriptions can capture at least a piece of their grandeur.
These are the dresses showcased from Egypt.

El Rashaydah Bridal Costume
The Rashaydah are a Bedouin tribe who live along the southern coast of the Red Sea, in the Horn of Africa and in Saudi Arabia. This gown is made of black nylon velvet decorated with green and velvet inserts; the patchwork pattern varied from tribe to tribe, thus making it possible to identify a woman's origins. The dress is gathered at the waist, and the long sleeves also feature patchwork. Though the cloth used for these dresses was rather cheap, the women's ingenuity in choosing patterns and color combinations made for extremely attractive garments.
The elaborate face mask, work with a small head covering and decorated with tiny metal beads, is unique to brides, as married women do not cover their faces. This dress dates from the mid to late 20th century; the style is no longer worn.

A Wedding Tunic from the Siwah Oasis
This late 20th century cotton tunic is hand embroidered with multicolored silk threads and decorated with mother of pearl buttons. It is paired with baggy trousers that are hand embroidered around the ankles. The motifs of the embroidery date back to antiquity: The squares on either side of the frontal opening suggest the pharaonic "ankh" (key of life) that adorn the neckline of the tunics worn by the boy-king Tut Ankh Amon; the long lines of embroidery radiating from the central medallion evoke the Sun god. The buttons, which replaced the circular chunks of mother of pearl worn on earlier garments, are yet other solar symbols typical of the Siwa Oasis, renowned in ancient times as home to the oracle of Sun god Amon Ra.
Until the end of the 20th century, this outfit was worn on the third day after the wedding, when the bride received her family. Today it is worn on the seventh day, as the Siwi are discarding their traditions in favor of Nile Valley practices.
The jewelry is typical of that worn by the traditional Siwi bride. Her "maiden jewelry", large earrings attached by a red leather strap, a choker bearing a large metal disk and a necklace with pentagonal shapes dangling from long chains, was returned to her mother after the wedding for use by other unmarried girls in her family. The bride also wore necklaces identifying her as a married woman: the "lazem", composed of large chunks of amber, metal beads and coral tubes; and the "suweidi", a choker of coral tubes and black glass beads. Such pieces are rarely worn by today's brides.

A Dress for a Bride from a Family of Wealthy Landowners

Dating from the early 20th century, this black tulle dress is richly embroidered with narrow silver bands called telli. Although this embellishment was also used on everyday dresses, the lavishness of the embroidery on this piece suggests that it was a wedding outfit. Telli is thought to have been introduced to Egypt following the Ottoman rule. This dress is probably from Upper Egypt; however this style was also worn in the Nile Delta until around 1925.
The ensemble consists of an overdress worn on top of a simpler "house gown" made of plain or patterned silk or cotton, depending on the wealth of the bride's family. The embroidery patterns differed from region to region and even slightly within regions, as women attempted to surpass their neighbors in creativity.
Head covers were also embroidered more or less extensively with telli. In addition, narrow silver bands of telli were gathered in long bunches on both sides of the forehead and worn as bridal head ornaments, a style that disappeared during the first quarter of the 20th century.

A Court Dress for a Princess of the Royal Khedivial family
This red satin dress dates from the late 19th century, a time when wedding celebrations lasted from three days to several weeks, depending on the prominence of the families. The wedding trousseau consisted of many dresses, all of them colorful and made of sumptuous fabrics. This one is a transitional style combining a Western cut with traditional hand embroidery in gilded silver thread.
Its high quality and elaborate design suggest that it was worn either for the official wedding ceremony or for the henna rituals, held the day before. Female relatives, in-laws and acquaintances attended these rituals, during which professional women used red henna paste to draw intricate designs on the hands and feet of the bride and her friends. The custom was said to bring luck, joy and beauty.
The red fabric may indicate that this was indeed the henna dress, but in those days, no gown was reserved for any single event. Expensive outfits such as this one would be worn on many occasions and for many years after the wedding, given that fashions changed very slowly.