Discover the intricacies of a ceremonial bridal headdress and explore the tradition of the Palestinian bridal trousseau
Bridal headdress, 'wuqāyat al-darāhim', Samuʿa, Hebron Hills, southern Palestine, circa 1840s with later additions.
The wuqāyat al-darāhim has densely packed rows of coins, beads, charms and pendants, which shielded the bride from the ‘eye of envy’ when she was most vulnerable – on procession to her new home and at her second public appearance, celebrating the consummation of the marriage.
These special ceremonial headdresses were usually family heirlooms, and were lent to families who did not own one for a few piastres or were returned filled with sweets.
The majority of coins are Ottoman paras (worth a fourtieth of a piastre) dating from the reign of Sultan Mahmud I (1730–54) to that of Mahmud II (1808–39). Such headdresses were probably made shortly after 1844 when paras were becoming obsolete but were still readily available.
The front of the headdress is decorated with rows of amuletic coral and blue beads and a fringe of silver-alloy hand-shaped pendants (khamsas) to ward off the ‘eye of envy’ or the ‘evil eye’. Coral beads are also believed to banish poverty.
Other coins include debased silver and copper piastres from the reign of the Ottoman sultans Mahmud II (1808–39), silver and copper coins from the reigns of Selim II (1789–1807) to Muhammad V (1909–19), a silver coin or ornament of sultan ʿAbd al-ʿAziz dated AH 1277 (1893 AD) and a Romanian 2-lei piece dated 1924. The headdress has clearly had many owners, each of whom added some coin or trinket.
Such valuable coin headdresses and jewellery not only symbolised a woman’s marital status and her family’s social and economic worth, they were considered her personal assets to do with as she pleased.
These headdresses were made commercially by professional female embroiderers in Bethlehem and nearby villages for brides in the villages of the Hebron Hills and their western foothills. The base of this headdress is constructed from layers of blue and brown cotton, with a later red satin lining. The original silk embroidery on the crown is overlaid with later embroidery.
The sides of the headdress are ornamented with colourful semi-precious, glass and plastic beads. The colour red is highly symbolic and connected to sexual maturity and fertility. The use of genuine and imitation amuletic red carnelian beads is believed to offer protection from illness and misfortune.
The inclusion of metal hand-shaped pendants and a pink plastic hand increases the amuletic power of the headdress. Known as a khamsa more generally (literally ‘five’) and as a ‘Hand of Fatima’ in many Muslim contexts, the hand is worn for protection, personal support and as an expression of feminine spirituality across religious traditions. An ancient amulet originating from North Africa, hand amulets are worn as protection against the ‘evil eye’ or ‘eye of envy’; harmful forces that arise from the human emotions of jealousy and envy.
According to Shelagh Weir, the trousseau of a village bride in pre-1948 central and southern Palestine was divided into two categories: the jihāz and kisweh. The jihāz comprised both festive and everyday objects and textiles prepared at home by the bride’s side of the family during the months or years leading up to her marriage and was paid for by her father. In contrast, the kisweh was the responsibility of the bridegroom and contained only ceremonial garments bought from professional dressmakers and embroiderers.
This ceremonial dress, called a jillāyeh, was one of the most sumptuously embroidered and embellished dresses that a woman produced for her trousseau (jihāz). This one, made of indigo-dyed cotton, is heavily worked in cross-stitch on the chest and skirt panels. The satin yoke, embroidered taffeta inserts, and sleeves woven with silk stripes demonstrate that no expense was spared. The bride first wore her jillāyeh for the ritual of ‘going out to the well’ among a crowd of singing and clapping women, celebrating her newly married status.
Content and online gallery prepared by Fahmida Suleman, Phyllis Bishop Curator for the Modern Middle East, and Joanna Hammond at the British Museum.
The British Museum will be opening the Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World in October 2018. The headdress featured in this exhibit will be displayed in these galleries.
For more information on Palestinian textiles and headdresses please see:
Hana al-Banna-Chidiac, L’Orient des femmes: vu par Christian Lacroix. Musée du Quai Branly, 2011.
Widad Kamel Kawar, Threads of Identity: Preserving Palestinian Costume and Heritage. Rimal Publications, 2011
Hanan Karaman Munayyer, Traditional Palestinian Costume: Origins and Evolution. Olive Branch Press, 2011.
Fahmida Suleman, Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The Fabric of Life. British Museum and Thames and Hudson, 2017.
Shelagh Weir, Palestinian Costume. British Museum, 1998 (and reprints).
Shelagh Weir, Embroidery from Palestine. British Museum, 2006.