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Thematic Essay | Bedouin Jewelry

The Bedouin Woman

By Alisha Vervouster
November 27, 2008
Although there are over a thousand words for the space of desert, there is no word for art in the Bedouin language. Silver jewelry and glass beads are highly prized for their intricate beauty. 
Nadia
Nadia -Lilia Durovda

My family, which is of French-Arabian descent, are exporters, wholesalers, and suppliers of true Bedouin handcrafted fabrics. My great-grandfather began the trade over a hundred years ago.

I am sure you know, “bedouin” derives from “bedu”, which means “native of the desert”. They are a very old nomadic people living in the deserts of Arabia, Negev, and Sinai.

The traditional Bedouin woman is at home in the desert, lives gracefully, and knows the unforgiving essence of the desert. She moves as easily as a shadow across the sand.

The women herd camels, goats, cattle, and sheep; weave tents, rugs, lace and practice beadwork. The men have raised and bred the Bedouin Arabian horse, since 1500.

The horse is a central factor of Bedouin culture and history, and a necessity for survival.

In the locales my family visits, handcrafts supply a good part of the Bedouin income. The bazaars are full of supposed “authentic Bedouin”, imported for tourists, but authentic traditional handmade textiles and jewelry that offer an unlimited range of color and style, are not easy to come by.

The typical costume is the Galabeya, a long, flowing dress-gown. Its basic color is black, dark blue or indigo, and is typically made of cotton, but also silk and wool. It is embroidered with intensely distinct colored silk threads such as brilliant red and purple.

The garment is elegant and versatile, especially for travel, as it can be quickly rolled inside of a saddleblanket. Many women weave their own cloth by hand. The Bedouin woman embellishes her clothing with symbolic fineries such as handknitted and embroidered shawls and black lace veils.

With needlework, loom and embroidery, she attaches silver bells, glass beads, amber, silk tassels and lace. When a woman moves around her tent you can hear the jingling of tiny bells.

At the wedding ceremonies of wealthy Bedouins, the bride wears a hand-sewn white lace gown, layers of silk and lace, and a lace mantila over her head. Wealthy Bedouins also enjoy decorative fabrics such as printed and diaphanous silks, hand woven silk lace, silk and wool brocade, rose and orange silk, and cut velvet, as well as silver and gold jewelry.

Many ancient designs and colors can be discovered in Bedouin fabrics and jewelry, and these motifs contain layers of meaning for the many traditions the Bedouin woman practices, such as the pre-Islamic ritual of praying to the new moon.

Although there are over a thousand words for the space of desert, there is no word for art in the Bedouin language. However, antique bedouin silver jewelry and glass beads and hand-sewn fabrics are highly prized for their intricate beauty and collectibility. The Bedouin woman herself has loved and sustained the jewelry trade for many generations.

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