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Clothing Of The Arabs

( Originally Published 1928 )



In 638 A.D. the Arabs conquered Egypt, northern Africa, Spain, and were proceeding to overrun France when checked at Tours by the Franks in 732 A.D. They remained in Spain for eight hundred years, influencing costume and leaving the tourist marvelous bits of architecture to revel in. Their ever picturesque costume is seen in Egypt, Algeria and Morocco to-day and has furnished the modern movie hero with an opportunity to drape himself gracefully in the burnous.

Historians inform us that there are two races of Arabs, those who derive their descent from the primitive inhabitants of Arabia, and those who call Ishmael their ancestor. The Ishmaelites wandered in the desert, having neither cities, houses nor fixed habitation, and dwelling only in tents; the Bedouins of today are their descendants. They are migratory and often robbers. Each tribe is headed by a sheik.

The Cachi.—This was a small felt hat, brown, red or white with a silk tassel of another color. Several are worn one over the other—on occasions of ceremony to the number of fifteen—but no matter how many, the red always on top. In one scene in "The Son of the Sheik" Valentino appeared in a cachi, the tassel of which was so long it hung over his shoulder like a curl.

The Haik.—An oblong piece of white wool or cotton cloth from two to three yards long and often striped, laid over the head and held on by agals (rings) made of camel's or goat's hair pressed tightly down about the brow. In the photoplay just mentioned Valentino, while he is being dressed, impatiently gives these rings an extra push down on his head. The haik falls in folds each side of the face, in a sandstorm one end being caught across the nose and mouth.

The Burnous.—A cloak of very generous proportions is made with a large hood and worn over the haik, the two fronts either joined by a band about five inches wide across the top of the chest or tied with tassels. In the former case the garment is put on by thrusting the head up through it. Tassels are sometimes used as decoration about the hem. A Moor of high degree in Tangier wore a burnous of rose-colored cashmere heavily embroidered in gold; on one of his long tapering fingers glowed a great ruby. He was bearded as are nearly all Arabs. In northern Africa one has constantly the feeling of living in Biblical days, owing to this combination of beard, haik and burnous.

A sheik sometimes wears a short, tight-fitting coat embroidered in gold and tasseled; under it a white vest shows, opening in a deep V, a style common to Turkey and Arabia. A belt of bright colored, striped silk is wound about the waist and knotted on the left hip. Baggy trousers reaching to the knees are met by stockings or high leather boots. Sandals, when worn, have high leather side pieces. An elaborate leather belt is placed over the silk sash with the pistol holster directly on front of the figure.

In "The Sheik," the bandit wore a huge hat resembling an overturned plate, entirely covered by waving plumes.

The Boor'cko'.—The face veil of the woman, a piece of linen or black muslin almost the length of the body, is suspended from a band about the forehead by means of a vertical strip placed over the nose ; the two outer edges are caught back to the band, leaving the eyes visible. With the boor'cko' is worn a large hooded cloak enveloping the entire figure. Arab women of social standing are not seen much on the streets. Very poor women run about bare-legged to the knees, while the rest of the body is swathed in what looks like a white sheet (not a clean one) held carefully across the nose in such a way that one eye peers at the tourist.

Silks, of exquisite colors interwoven with gold thread, are used for more elaborate clothes. Brilliant squares or oblong pieces, often gaily striped, are fastened to the head, shoulder or hip; trousers of silk or cotton, long tunics, red shoes turned up at the toes, and large circular earrings complete the costume.



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