Sunday, March 16, 2008

The keffiyeh (Arabic: كوفية, kūfīyä; plural: كوفيات, kūfīyāt) is also known as a shmagh, shemagh or yashmag (شماغ, šmāġ), a ghutra (غترة, ġuträ) or a hatta (حطّة, ḥaṭṭä), and is a traditional headdress of Arab men, made of a square of cloth ("scarf"), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head. It is commonly found in arid climate areas to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well as for occasional use in protecting the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand.
Local variations exist. Many Palestinian keffiyeh are a mix of cotton and wool, which lets them dry quickly and keep the wearer's head warm. The keffiyeh is usually folded in half, into a triangle, and the fold is worn across the forehead. Often, the keffiyeh is held in place by a rope circlet, called an agal (Arabic: عقال, ʿiqāl). Some wearers wrap the keffiyeh into a turban, while others wear it loosely draped around the back and shoulders. Sometimes a skullcap is worn underneath the keffiyeh, and, in the past, it has also been wrapped around the rim of the fez. The keffiyeh is almost always of white cotton cloth, but many have a checkered pattern in red or black stitched into them. The plain, white keffiyeh is most popular in the Gulf states, almost excluding any other style in Kuwait and Bahrain. The black-and-white keffiyeh is most popular in the Levant. The red-and-white keffiyeh is worn throughout these regions, but is most strongly associated with Jordan, where is it known as shmagh mhadab. The Jordan keffiyeh has cotton-made decorative strings on the sides. It is believed that the bigger those strings the more value it has and the higher a person's status is. It has been used by Bedouins through out the centuries and was used as a symbol for honor and tribal identification.
Keffiyeh is often spelled kaffiyah, keffiya, kaffiya, kufiya or some other variation. There is little basis for considering any one of these more correct than the others, as the varied spellings simply show different understandings of the pronunciation in Arabic, which differs from region to region, as well as different methods of transliteration from the Arabic alphabet to the Latin alphabet. The name keffiyeh is purported to come from the name of the city Kufa (Arabic: الكوفة, al-kūfä) or from the word for the palm of the hand (الكف, al-kef) (the other meaning of the word is "napkin" (held in hands).
The keffiyeh, especially the all-white version, can also be called a ghutra (غترة, ġuträ), particularly in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (where the skullcap is confusingly called keffiyeh), but is also known in some areas a shmagh (شماغ, šmāġ) or a hatta (حطّة, ḥaṭṭä).

Palestinian national symbol
The British Colonel T. E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia), probably the best-known Western wearer of the keffiyeh, wore a plain white one with agal during his involvement in the Arab Revolt in World War I. This image of Lawrence was later popularized by the film epic about him, Lawrence of Arabia, in which he was played by Peter O'Toole.
Possibly due to the view of Arabs as part of the allies of World War I, the 1920s "silent-film" era of American cinema saw studios take to Orientalist themes of the "exotic" Middle East, and keffiyehs became a standard part of the theatrical wardrobe. These films and their male leads (as with The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik, starring heart-throb actor Rudolph Valentino) typically had Western actors in the role of an Arab, often wearing the keffiyeh with the agal.
In current times, in the music video for the Nine Inch Nails single "Survivalism," Trent Reznor can be seen wearing a shemagh around his neck, though the use of the shemagh in the video is appropriated in part to represent the Art is Resistance movement in the band's promotional alternate reality game for its album Year Zero.

Westerners in keffiyeh
Increased sympathy and activism by certain Westerners toward Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the years of the Oslo Peace Accords and Second Intifada have led to the wearing of keffiyehs as a sign of their solidarity with Palestine and the Palestinian people. For example, the slang "keffiyeh kinderlach" refers to young left-wing Jews, particularly college students, who sport a keffiyeh around the neck as a political/fashion statement. This term may have first appeared in print in an article by Bradley Burston in which he writes of "the suburban-exile kaffiyeh kinderlach of Berkeley, more Palestinian by far than the Palestinians" in their criticism of Israel.
While Western protesters wear differing styles and shades of keffiyeh, the most prominent is the black-and-white keffiyeh. This is typically worn around the neck like a neckerchief, simply knotted in the front with the fabric allowed to drape over the back. Other popular styles include rectangular-shaped scarves with the basic black-and-white pattern in the body, with the ends knitted in the form of the Palestinian flag. Since the Al-Aqsa Intifada, these rectangular scarves have increasingly appeared with a combination of the Palestinian flag and Al-Aqsa Mosque printed on the ends of the fabric.

Keffiyeh Symbol of solidarity
For some years, the wearing of the keffiyeh has been almost ubiquitous amongst British soldiers, who now, almost exclusively, refer to them as shemaghs. Their use by some units and formations of the military and police forces of the former British Empire and subsequent Commonwealth dates back to before the Second World War. Because of its utility it was adopted by the Palestine Police Force, the Trans Jordan Frontier Force, the Sudan Defence Force, the Arab Legion, the Libyan Arab Force, the Long Range Desert Group, the Special Air Service and Popski's Private Army, amongst others, who wore them while operating in North Africa. After the war, their use by the Army continued with the keffiyeh being worn in both desert and temperate environments in theatres such as Dhofar. Since the beginning of the War on Terror, these keffiyeh, usually cotton and in military olive drab or khaki with black stitching, have been adopted by US troops as well. Their practicality in an arid environment, as in Iraq, explains their constant popularity with soldiers. Soldiers often wear the keffiyeh folded in half into a triangle and wrapped around the face, with the halfway point being placed over the mouth and nose, sometimes coupled with goggles, to keep sand out of the face.

No comments: