Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Hebron thob and shambar
I'm starting with a collection of photos I took of thobs at the National Folklore Museum in Amman. A thob is simply a woman's outer dress, and although all those you see here are museum pieces, they are not necessarily out-of-date. I saw quite a few Jordanian and Palestinian ladies out shopping for groceries in their thobs, and many Palestinian women still sew to maintain their heritage, and from economic necessity. In Madaba we met a shopkeeper who sells the hand- and machine-work of several Palestinian women based in Madaba itself, and Amman, who support their families this way.
The heavily embroidered and fringed shawl you see here is a wedding veil specific to Hebron, called a shambar. I hope the lustre comes through on your screen.
When our school celebrates International Day, everyone comes in national dress, and since we have over 80 nationalities among our staff and students, the atmosphere is always happy, with everyone admiring everyone else's beautiful clothes, or patriotic colour scheme, or inventive draping of their nation's flag! The Palestinian and Jordanian ladies wear beautiful thobs: one of my favourites this year was of natural linen waist-deep in fine burgundy stitching; another was natural cotton with candy-coloured stitching; and then lots of girls came in the familiar black with red embroidery highlighted with traces of green or white. Gorgeous! One thing that I notice about our girl students, who can choose to wear long skirts, is that they all know how to move gracefully in a full-length skirt, (and sprint!) even in clumpy fashion shoes, on stairs, and weighed down with backpacks full of books!
This photo is a bit over-exposed (and the next one is a bit blurry - sorry) but you can appreciate the richness of this thob, and the skill and exuberant colour sense of the embroiderers. Girls used to learn early, in order to be able to sew their trousseaux. It was part of the betrothal tradition in many villages for the groom's family to make a special trip to buy cloth for wedding clothes, which the bride would then embroider. It would be an advantage to be a skilled needlewoman if you didn't want a long engagement!
Women celebrated daily life and the world around them in their embroidery motifs - as artists do in every medium and culture. There are lots of variations on the moon (qamr) - most of which look like stars (nejm) or flowers to me! The motif repeated down the central column here is nejm el riish, star of feathers, or quatrefoil, The reversed S on the side panels is 'Aleq, the leech in the rose - romance with bite....
The qabbeh, or chest piece is practical as well as beautiful. The solid embroidery provides extra insulation against cold air, while certain motifs, such as amulet, were believed to offer protection (to the heart?) from the evil eye. If you've seen big middle-eastern necklaces (silver bride-wealth - and insurance against hard times) you may have noticed small cylinders or triangular boxes among the Maria-Teresa dollars and coral and turquoise beads : these would contain verses from the Quran, or hadith, sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). The amulets were worn for protection from the evil eye, and symbolically incorporated into embroidery for the same reason. No, there aren't any amulet motifs here, I'm just letting you know!
For charts of Palestinian embroidery motifs and borders, links to other traditions, and more about Palestinian culture, take a look at http://palestinianembroider.tripod.com/ . I'll put it in the sidebar later.
As you have probably gathered, I don't think that clothes have to be designed in Europe, the US or Australia, produced in a Chinese factory, and driven into our consciousness through the efforts of a pan-galactic media house with an advertising budget to rival the combined GNP of Central America to be beautiful, valuable and fun!