Folk Costumes of the Syrian Desert: A Genuine Heritage Which Attracted Western Orientalist and Travelers

Bedouin costumes in the Syrian Desert reflect many aspects of the social life of groups of people who, for many decades, lived in an isolated oasis far from the modern life of Arab societies. These costumes reflect how the Bedouin could accommodate himself with his environment and with nature, and how he lived and practiced his normal life for many centuries. Although many of these costumes kept their original styles and distinguished heritage characters, we cannot ignore that Bedouin life in general, costumes included, were influenced by modernism. Some of these costumes are now a story of the past with the advent of alfarweh, aldamer and alzaboun.

The first thing which attracts the attention in the Bedouin costume is the kaffiah and the black head band, trademarks of Bedouin. The Bedouin wears a white wide dress with very long sleeves, then another colored dress named alzaboun, which men and women wear. The Bedouin uses a wide belt made of wool and sometimes it is made of two layers, one of them is used like a wallet for keeping money and small valuable things. Some of them wear another belt on the chest to hold their weapons. Some men wear a short jacket with long sleeves called aldamer.

Gold embroideries

One of the Bedouin clothes which were saved from modern influences is the Arab aba, usually worn daily over the clothes. It is usually made of camel hair with its original color. The black aba, made of fine threads is usually embroidered with gold around the collar, and it is usually used by sheiks, princes and well to do Bedouins, and the best kinds of it is the one made in Hasia, near Homs, although Damascus and Aleppo excel in making it.

The Bedouin wears the aba in summer and in winter. In winter it is used like a coat in the day time and as a bed cover in night time. It is also used as a rug during traveling or as a shelter when the wind sweeps sands around. In summer it is used for showing dignity and high position and it is usually transparent white, candy white, or chest nut and it is named almezweih or alkhashieh.

Many western travelers and orientalists who traveled across the Syrian Desert admired Bedouin clothes, and some of them devoted large parts of their writings to describe them and denote their traditional significance. Traveler Dandini who visited Syria in the late 16th Century 1599, said that residents of Tripoli wear the aba over alJobba. It is either made of soft threads for the rich, or of twisted coarse threads and striped with white and black or white and chestnut

stripes for the poor people.

Traveler Arivieux said that the aba is worn by Bedouin princes in winter and it is made of red and green wool and decorated with gold bands on the shoulders with many rose embroideries and button holes in the front. This kind of dress might have been used to serve the knight well on his horse.

AlJallabiah and alFarwa

Aljallabiah is the common dress of the Bedouin. It is made of one rectangular piece of fabrics like an open sac opened from the bottom and has three holes at the top: one is for the collar and the other two are for the sleeves. It is an old piece of dress known in history as Claziris, mentioned in Hieroglyphic as the dress of the people of southern Syria.

Alfarweh is the piece of clothes that really represents Syrian folklore clothes which were made to satisfy human and natural conditions of life. It is made from natural materials already present in the desert. It is also easy to design and sew, since it is like a coat and is worn by shepherds day and night and in travel. It protects the shepherd from the cool winter and from hot summer days, and at the same time it facilitates his movement. When it is designed long it is called bagdalieh, and when it is short it is ibtieh. It is usually made of the skins of small lamps coated with thick black fabrics.

Almulaffa and alhabrieh

The Bedouin woman coverts her head with a soft black cotton scarf over a silk scarf with many apparent folds on the forehead. When it is tied from behind it is called alhatta. Hattas of the daughters of princes and sheiks are usually embroidered with silver or gold threads. Another kind of head covers is almulaffa which is embroidered with black and white threads. Over almulaffa married women wear alhabrieh which is made of colored silk. Unmarried ones cover their heads with a scarf and bind it around the neck.

On the body, the Bedouin woman wears a long black dress called malas or abu Rweisheh, with another colored dress over it called sayeh. Alsayeh is usually embroidered with twisted blue threads. In wedding parties women boast of the quality of their dresses and sing songs expressing their happiness of these kinds of dresses. Some Bedouin women wear a cotton jacket called aljoukha. It has no sleeves but it covers the body to the hips. A woman usually wears a belt called alshweihi made of colored silk with amulets dangling to the knees.

They also wear aldarraa or alsadrieh which is a sleeved jacket made of wool and embroidered around the handcuffs and on the back and the chest.

The Bedouin woman wears gold and silver jewelry. On the head they are called altraki and the ear rings. Alwardineh are worn in the nose, alarran in the middle of the nose dangling to cover the upper lip. Alkardan and alhajoul are types of necklaces. Anklets are worn on the feet. Most of these jewelries are no longer used today, and some of them are replaced by silver mixed with copper. Gold bracelets and ear rings are still used today.



Haifaa Mafalani