Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1917 Bedouin sheikh
Subjectشيخ sheikh tribal chief
Culture: Arabian Bedouin
Setting: desert raiding, Arab revolt, Arabia early 20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Graves 1927 p62
"The great deserts are not, as might be supposed, the common property of all the Arab tribes to wander about in according to their pleasure.  The territories are strictly divided up between the various tribes and clans, who may graze their camels and flocks only in their own pastures.  Thus any clan new to the desert must either fight or pay tribute to maintain itself in any fixed territory.  It may pass through and be given free hospitality, but after three days the journey must be renewed.  As if the natural hardships of desert life were not enough, the old-established desert tribes are at constant feud with each other, and until the Arab Revolt began had no common thought or motive.  (There are moreover outlaws, men with no tribe, who rob and kill any man they meet.)  The Bedouin's curse has always been the curse of Ishmael, to have his hand against every man and every man's hand against him.  Yet on the whole he keeps to a very strict code of honour in his tribal warfare."

* O'Brien ed. 2000 p16-17
"The two major warring tribes in Nejd, the Rashids and the Sauds, were in 1913 proxies of Turkey and Britain, respectively.  Even the Turks had long since given up the attempt to assert dominance over Nejd.  One result was constant skirmishing for power among the bedouins.  One particular family, the Sauds, conquered large portions of the area in the 1830s.  Followers of a purifying Muslim sect known as Wahabism, they established their capital at Riyadh.
    "Restlessly, they pushed eastward toward the Persian Gulf, only to be checked by British power exercised from India. British officials, although initially eschewing involvement in the isolated Arabian interior, limited Saudi reach by establishing a network of treaties up and down the coast with local rulers, thus also holding Turkey at bay.  The sultan was reduced to seeking allies among Saudi opponents, settling finally on members of the Shammar federation known as the Rashids.  A particularly cruel and violent tribe, ostensible agents of the Saudi state, the Rashids in the 1840s consolidated their position at Hayyil.  By the 1880s they succeeded in inciting disaffected tribes, temporarily unseating the Sauds in the environs of Hayyil." [references omitted]

* James 2014 p178
"Steadfastness, Lawrence believed, could only be understood by one group of Arabs, the nomadic desert Beduin.  They alone could carry out what he required of their race because of their ability to grasp an abstract principle, and, tempered by the rigours of desert life and imbued with a fierce Puritanism, they would accept the necessary suffering and self-sacrifice.
    "[...]  The love affair between Lawrence and the Beduin was instantaneous.  At Faisal's camp in October 1916 he felt stirred by the 'spirit of these romantics of the hills'.  They were lean, hard men, 'a tough-looking crowd ... physically thin but exquisitely made, moving with an oiled activity altogether delightful to watch. ...  They were wild spirits, shouting that war might last ten years.'  Like the Crusading Knights Templar, these warriors disdained luxury and embraced a Spartan life; they would, Lawrence believed, submit themselves to the pursuit of his creed, which offered secular salvation.
    "The Beduin fighting men aroused his historical imagination.  Here in the twentieth century were armies of mounted warriors commanded by warlords who carried swords and rode into battle under colourful embroidered banners.  Lawrence had found an army which might have been the host of Saladin as depicted in an illuminated manuscript.  Its captains were figures of heroic proportions, speaking and acting like their mediaeval counterparts[.]"

*Keohane 1994 p18
"Every grouping of the Bedu, be it clan, tribe or an alliance of several tribes known as a confederation, has a leader known as a sheikh.  Sheikhs may be graded as minor, tribal or paramount depending on their level of leadership, a paramount sheikh being the leader of a confederation.  Sheikhs are always chosen from within the same family, although it need not be the eldest son who becomes leader of a tribe on the death of his father.  Bedu society is very egalitarian in this respect and leadership of the group falls on that member of the sheikhly family most qualified to do the job.  When a new tribe or sub-tribe is formed, the choice of sheikh is usually obvious, because there will be a senior man who has led his family away from the larger group.
    "H.R.P. Dickson, a British political agent in Kuwait between the two world wars who wrote a book about his experiences called The Arab of the Desert, lists the qualities required of a sheikh as courage in war, leadership in peace and above all luck, hadh.  However, a sheikh cannot expect, and would certainly not receive, the unquestioning obedience of his tribespeople.  Sheikhs rely on leadership by consensus, not by political will.  Every Bedu feels himself equal to his fellows and if he obeys his sheikh it is because he gives, not owes, his allegiance.  Tribal leaders maintain their positions by consultation with the elders of their tribe and because they are known to have made good decisions in the past.
    "At the same time a sheikh spreads his reputation by being generous with his wealth.  He has an obligation to feast his fellows periodically -- on the occasions of weddings, visits by important guests and so on.  He also has a duty to be compassionate and generous, giving presents to those of his tribe who may be in need.  These activities do not widen the sheikh's political influence; they are merely expected of one who is seen as a father to his people."

* Hardy 2017 p29-30
"Ibn Saud had hitherto relied on Nejdi townsmen ready to fight for his cause. Now he mobilised the tribesmen of the region under the banner of jihad, or holy war. He began to recruit a force known as the Ikhwan, or Brotherhood. These were tough bedouin fighters motivated by the lure of booty and a burning zeal to spread the message of Wahhabism -- the austere, literalist form of Sunni Islam which the Sauds had espoused in the middle of the eighteenth century. The essence of Wahhabism was a strict monotheism and a fierce iconoclasm: it abhorred the worship of trees, stones, or saints.
    "[...] The Ikhwan were Ibn Saud's shock troops and the necessary instruments of his conquests. But their zeal and independent-mindedness made them hard to handle, and the forceful imposition of their austere faith bred resentment among those they conquered. The Arabian peninsula was far from being uniformly Wahhabi; there were different forms of Sunni Islam, and sizeable Shi'a and Sufi minorities. For many Arabians, Wahhabism was both alien and threatening."


* Evans 1938 p266
"Remembering their isolated mode of life in the desert, one can readily believe the statement that the dress of the Bedouins, the wandering tribes of the Arabs, have retained the same features that characterized it in the tenth century.  The man's tobe, a close or a loose-sleeved shirt of blue cotton, covers him from neck to ankles, a short opening down the front enabling him to slip it on over the head.  A leather belt encircles the waist while an additional belt, worn crosswise over the shoulder holds the firearms.  The trousers, the aba, of striped camel's hair cloth, and kúfiýah, are those typical of Arabian dress."

* Dehau/Bonte 2007 p17
"It is perhaps through their clothing that the Bedouin people have made their most notable contribution to the great civilizations of which they are a part and in which the textile industries, including the silk industry in Syria, used to occupy an important place.  Men's clothing, consisting of a tunic and loose trousers (sarwal) and a headdress, is relatively uniform, although the traditional turban-like tarbush has been largely replaced by the more widespread keffiyeh."

* Signos y símbolos 2020 p249
"Vestimenta árabe  El vestido de los hombres árabes, amplio y holgado, es idóneo para la vida en el desierto, pues permite que el aire circule libremente para mantener el cuerpo fresco, el tocado protege la cabeza del calor."

* Cuddihy 2002 p40-4
"The white cotton ghutrah or the red-and-white checked sham'agh head covering serves both as protection from the sun and as a convenient nose and mouth cover in sand storms.  In former times, the ghutrah/sham'agh kept a horse or camel rider's long hair from blowing in his face.  Most men leave the ghutrah or sham'agh on at all times except when relaxing at home.  It is impolite to ask a Saudi to remove his head covering.
    "The large square of cotton material is folded diagonally and placed on top of a taqiyah, a white skull cap that keeps the hair in place.  The igaal, a black, braided cord, is doubled over and set on top of the ghutrah or sham'agh.  It is coarse enough to keep a grip on the ghutrah or sham'agh and prevent slipping.  The igaal was originally used to hobble camels. ...
    "Saudi men traditionally wear a full-length, long-sleeved garment called a thobe.  Buttons at the neck and the wrist give the thobe the appearance of a long shirt.  The design of nearly all thobes includes deep pockets on the left and right sides.  Most also have a breast pocket.
    "Materials vary from fine cottons to inexpensive polyester.  Islam prohibits Muslim men from wearing silk.  Thobes keep the wearer cool by a chimney effect which draws air in at the bottom and allows it to circulate effectively, unimpeded by tight-waisted apparel.  White thobes predominate but some men wear heavier materials and darker colours in winter.  Lightweight white shorts or long, drawstring pantaloons called sirwaal are worn underneath the thobe.
    "For extra warmth during the winter months, some men wear a jacket over their thobes; others prefer the elegant, full-length, tailored coat called a digla.  Throughout the year as a mark of prestige or on occasions demanding dressier attire, the full-length cloak of cream, brown, or black wool or camel hair called a bisht or mishlah is often worn over the thobe.  The finely woven fabric and the beautiful edgings of patterned  gold braid distinguish the best from the ordinary bisht.  ...  Openings in the side seams just below the shoulders allow the wearer's arms to protrude.  Usually, however, the cloak rests on the shoulders and the right side is neatly tucked under the left arm.  Although the loose, flowing style makes the bisht look like a one-size-fits-all garment, each bisht is tailored to fit the wearer.  Interestingly, they are not shortened at the hemline but at a seam which runs horizontally at approximately knee level.
    "In particularly cold weather, Saudis wear a farwa.  The original design of the farwa consisted of a single sheepskin.  It has evolved into a long, sleeved coat lined with several sheepskins (or synthetic fibers).  Like the lighter weight bisht or mishlah, the farwa has no buttons or zippers.  A simple geometric pattern often decorates the upper middle back area.  The farwa is such an effective deterrent against the cold that the bedouin may use it as bedding during the winter."

* Nance 1999 p72-75
"Garments worn by men include the thawb (bodyshirt), the bisht or mishlah -- sometimes also called 'aba (cloak), and headdress consisting of the kufiyyah or qahfiyyah (skullcap), the ghutrah (headscarf), and the 'iqal (a twisted rope that holds the other headdress pieces in place).  In some non-Saudi Arabic dialects the ghutrah is called kufiyyah. ....
    "The thawb is full length and has a turned up collar, referred to in the United States as a Nehru collar.  The mishlah or bisht has a gold-thread. edging and tie. ....
    "The headscarf may be the checkered red, checkered gray or white.  The white is usually worn by religious leaders and by the Hijazis.  The checkered red is usually worn by people from the Central Province and the gray mostly by Jordanians, Iraqis and Palestinians.
    "Sandals, which allow the sand to slip through and are cooler than closed footwear, are worn by men and boys.  A boot is available for the mountains or cold nights in the desert.  A sheepskin-lined cloak is worn in cool weather and is usually finished in suede with embroidered edging."

* Keohane 1994 p148-149

* Ross 1993 p43-44
"All forms of Arabian men's outer-wear is designed to fall open at the front.  The possible reason for this is that, traditionally, an Arab is considered properly decked out only when wearing weapons.  Arms are worn to the front -- to be 'at the ready' it would seem.  Arabian arms are usually elaborately decorated and consist of a sheathed dagger, generally known as jambiyyah or khanjar, and a sheathed sword, the saif.  Some Meccan men once carried a small sheathed dagger known as a sikeena, while Arab tribesmen customarily carried a dagger, knife, sword and spear.  The rifle eventually replaced the spear.  Ceremonially, daggers are only worn with a jacket but this garment was often impractical with full gear adn a battle to be fought.
    "Wilfred and Lady Anne Blunt, visiting Hayil in 1878 described the Amir, Muhammed ibn Rashid, as 'gorgeously dressed, carrying gold-hilted daggers and a gold-hilted sword adorned with turquoises and rubies.'"

* Lawrence 2017 p43 (writing in 1917)
"If you wear Arab things, wear the best.  Clothes are significant among the tribes, and you must wear the appropriate, and appear at ease in them.  Dress like a Sherif, if they agree to it."

* Berton 2011 p105-108
"These 'Arab things' were simple, practical items of clothing for working in the desert.  They primarily consisted of a thobzebunabayehkeffiyeh and agal.
    "The thob is a simple white garment, similar to an ankle length shirt, with long sleeves and a collar.  Some variations on sleeve design and decorative embroidery can be found.  The thob most often would be bound at the waist, from a simple plain rope up to a decorative belt depending on the taste and status of the wearer.
    "Over this robe, a zebun could be worn.  Some examples of this type of cloak are richly embroidered or made of fine silk.  They are cut like a western style, ankle length bathrobe.
    "The most common everyday outer garment is the abayeh.  This wide, sleeveless cloak is commonly made of woven camel hair, cotton or silk with metallic woven embroidery stitched around the neck and down a portion of the sides. [...]  
​   "... The kefeyah [sic] would be a solid or patterned piece of cloth about a meter or larger square.  This would be folded in half at the corners making a triangle. [...]
    "Holding down the keffiyeh would be the agal.  The agal could be a simple woven goat hair rope doubled over.  Men of higher status would wear an agal woven with metallic thread and silk with a hanging tassel or two hanging down the back."


* Murphy/Dennis 2008 p21
"At the outset of the revolt, it ... became apparent that these tribesmen would have to be entirely re-armed.  While the British command in Egypt had sent some weapons across the Red Sea before the outbreak of the revolt, it would appear that the majority of tribesmen were still armed with muzzle-loading jazail muskets.  In the short term, a re-arming programme got under way using captured Ottoman weapons and also a quantity of Japanese Arisaka rifles supplied by the British.  Later in the campaign an effort was made to supply all the tribesmen with a British service rifle, usually the excellent Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) in .303in.  The widespread issue of this weapon increased the effectiveness and firepower of the Arab irregulars and also made it easier for the British to supply both ammunition and spare parts.  Nevertheless, in some late 1918 photographs it can be seen that the tribesmen were still using different types of rifle, so re-supply with the SMLE never reached all of the irregulars.  Other photographs show Arab tribesmen with long Lee Enfield rifles."

* Browne 2010 online 
"Though lacking military discipline, the irregulars knew the land intimately and were excellent shots. They could mount a running camel with a rifle in hand. Dashing across sharp rock on bare feet, they could travel at great speed through terrain thought impassable by outsiders. The revolt’s leaders employed the Agayl, a group of fierce, elite warriors, as bodyguards. Arab armament was a motley assortment, ranging from swords and muzzle-loading muskets to Mausers and Lee-Enfield rifles".

* Thomas 2017 p80 (writing in 1924)
"Lawrence's first plan was to supply the Bedouin irregulars in the hills between Medina and Rabegh with modern rifles and plenty of ammunition, in the hope that they would be able to hold up the advancing Turks in the narrow defiles, until a regular army of Arab townsmen, more amenable to discipline, could be whipped into shape."

* Elgood 1995 p

* Keohane 1994 p149-150
"Belts designed for carrying bullets are ... popular, as are rifles and pistols.  It is a common sight in any gathering of Bedu, be it for a market, camel race or feast, to see the men armed as if the desert were on the brink of war.  Firearms and knives are very much a part of a man's costume and are integral to his sense of manhood and independence."


* Ross 1993 p44
"There are two popular swords in Arabia: the double-edged straight blade and the slim single-edge scimitar.  The latter was probably introduced into Arabia after the expansion of the Islamic Empire into Asia during the eighth and ninth centuries.  The earlier swords were of the double-edged, straight blade type.
    "Long ago fine swords and daggers were made in many places on the Peninsula.  Najran and Yemen are known for producing good blades.  Old records mention the Banu Hanifa and Banu Asad tribes as excellent blade-makers and several Omani towns are famous for weaponry of distinctive styles and embellishment.  In the past many swords were imported from Damascus, Basra and India but the decoration on these was usually carried out by specialized Muslim craftsmen.  Today, most of the sabres worn on the Peninsula come from India undecorated, to be embellished locally.  Many skilled weaponry jewellers are located on the island of Bahrain.
    "Royalty and the well-to-do often have their names inscribed in artistic calligraphy and many swords also carry Koranic phrases, the names of craftsmen and the date of manufacture.  It was the custom in Arabia to offer visiting dignitaries presents of swords and daggers, many of which were engraved.  The Imam of Najd, in 1865, presented the explorer Pelly with a magnificent 'gilt pistol and sword made to please Arab taste'.  Pelly recorded that the sword was much admired."

* Coe, Connolly, Harding, Harris, Larocca, Richardson, North, Spring, & Wilkinson 1993 p142 (Anthony North, "Swords of Islam" p136-147)
"In Saudi Arabia the very angular cap pommel seems to have been adopted during the eighteenth century. Saudi swords almost invariably fitted with Persian or Indo-Persian curved, watered blades, usually of seventeenth- or eighteenth-century date. The hilts are of the standard late Arab type, with straight quillons, an ivory plaque grip riveted through the tang, and a prominent cap pommel projecting backwards at a sharp angle. Saudi swords and scabbards are decorated with gold filigree work, sometimes set with stamped silver panels."

* Fryer 1969 p88
"Saif  An Arab sabre.  The hilt has a pistol-shaped grip with a boss on the pommel."

* North 1985 p


* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/La Rocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p146-147 (Anthony North, "Swords of Islam" p136-147)
"The dagger has always been an important feature of ceremonial dress in Arabia.  The formal dress dagger is the jambiya, which usually has a strongly waisted grip with a flat-topped pommel and a broad curved blade; the scabbard has a very strong curve, often curving back towards the grip.  Weapons like these really come into the category of jewellery and the most lavish decoration is used on the mounts and scabbards -- gold filigree work, silver set with coral, precious stones, amber, coins and so on.  Regional and tribal differences are denoted by different hilt designs and by the different colours of the cords used to attach the dagger to the sash."

* Ross 1993 p44
"The Arabian dagger has a broad double-edged blade, bisected lengthwise by a salient spine along the full length of the blade.  It is sligthly curved and tapers from the middle towards a spiky point.  The hilt is made of horn, bone, wood, plastic or ivory with T-shaped crown.  The scabbard is made from special wood covered with silver.  The traditional southern scabbard has a U-shaped end and all others are curved to a much lesser degree.  The blade of one Arabian dagger, commonly referred to as the 'Gulf dagger' is thirty-three centimetres long including the hilt.  The best-known Central Arabian dagger is a little shorter.  West of Abha, some valley tribesmen carry a dagger nearly a metre long, to protect themselves against leopards, they say.
    'Many daggers are made for the Arabian market by Indians and Iranians.  Wherever the weaponry is made, it is acknowledged as an integral part of traditional Arabian costume."

* Keohane 1994 p149
"In Arabia men visiting each other or going to a market also like to wear silver or gold belts fitted with highly decorated, curved silver daggers called khanjar.  These have much more than decorative value, being practical tools for cutting ropes and for killing and skinning animals.  Further north the Bedu use straight-bladed knives."

* Cuddihy 2002 p42
"In the southwest regions of the [Saudi] Kingdom, many men, particularly the older generation, continue to wear the traditional djambiya, a dagger encased in a sharply curved sheath covered with ornately decorated silver or other metal.  The dagger is held in place by a leather or colourfully embroidered belt.  The djambiya is often worn at official or ceremonial functions by men who might not otherwise wear it as a daily addition to their clothing.  Carrying custom a step further, some men also wear a bandolier over each shoulder and criss-crossing the chest."

* Stone 1934 p312
"The Wahabites use a distinct variety with much longer blades without ribs.  Their scabbards do not turn up at the ends."

* Nance 1999 p58
"The daggers have the curve blade for use in tribal warfare; they are decorated with silver using the old techniques ... of filigree, granulation and diamond faceted pieces, the same techniques used for women's jewelry.  Today they are worn primarily for decorative or ceremonial purposes."

* Royal Armouries Museum > Oriental Gallery
"Arabian daggers  The Arabic word khanjar is a general term for most of the daggers of the Muslim world, but some areas have particular words for their own dagger types ....  Among the Bedouin, the term giddamiyah is used."

* Berton 2011 p108
"Around the waist, most Bedouin wore a dagger called a jambiya.  These also were highly prized and varied in quality.  There were also differences in style determined by the region the wearer came from.  No matter how ornate the dagger might be, in almost all cases, the blade itself was poorly made."

* North 1985 p


*Araujo 2010 p13
​"​The dallah’s form is pleasing to the eye. It is elegant and feminine, inviting the eye to gaze on its polished, reflective golden surface. The upper part of lid and spout are reminiscent of the Aladdin’s lamp from the 'Arabian Nights' so ingrained in the popular consciousness and closely connected to magic. The lid’s elongated finial echoes elaborate minarets. The unique crescent beak-spout form suggests the delicate lines of calligraphy as well as the Islamic crescent moon, which is a symbol present in the flags of numerous Muslim countries and also featured in the minarets of many mosques.
    "The sense of sight has a massive architecture of cells working in parallel allowing humans to identify colors, forms and movement. The choice of metal also plays an important part in how much vision excitement the object creates. The yellow, warm golden color of the pot and the coffee it contains not only reminds one of luxury and preciousness but also echoes the affable atmosphere a host tries to create for his guests in which the coffee ritual takes center stage. The next level that goes beyond the visual is concerned with the meaning attributed to the coffee pot through what it represents within the ritual – hospitality, generosity, social standing, wealth and prestige. It was common for the dallah to be prominently displayed, and the greater the size and number of pots in use, the more affluent and influential the host would be." [references omitted]

​* Dehau/Bonte 2007 p200
"Arabian vases, cups, incense burners, cutlery and dishes fashioned in gold, silver and enamel adorned the palaces and fortresses of princes and emirs, but sometimes they could also be found in Bedouin homes.  Like the women's jewelry, they were a storehouse of family wealth that could be drawn on in times of need."

​* Cuddihy 2002 p15
"Water is placed in a dallah. With its rounded lower half and its pelican-beak spout, this distinctive coffee pot has become a symbol of Saudi hospitality. The ground coffee is added and brought to a boil. The vital ingredient of cardamom, and perhaps saffron and other spices to give extra flavour and colour, is added to the brew which is then brought to the boil once again. Either crushed or in pods, cardamom gives the brew a taste unique to this part of the world. Taken before a meal, cardamom prepares the stomach lining to accept food; after a meal, it aids digestion.
      "The steaming, aromatic liquid is poured from the dallah in a long, thin jet. A sprig of dried palm webbing (leefah) placed in the spout is an ancient method of filtration which prevents the grounds and spices from entering the cups."


* Ross 1993 p45
"In traditional Arabia, men also carried sticks.  Townsmen in the Hijaz possessed a decorated stick called a shoon.  Bedouin carried camel sticks made of cane, known as asamishaab and baakura."


* Ross 1993 p45
"It was common also for the nomad to carry leather bags called mizuda.  This name also applies to the woven woollen versions.  Mizuda are colourfully decorated with beads, tassels and cloth appliqué, and hold anything from Koranic verses to a small supply of coffee beans, dates or money."