Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli, The Zay Initiative founder was initially contacted on Instagram by Mariam Khalfan Mohammed Khalifah al Maydi al Badwawi, who offered to volunteer and help source old artifacts from the northern Emirates for the Zay Collection. Mariam has been an invaluable addition to our team, as she connects easily with people and patiently explains our role, convincing others to help the cause. This (kandurah_arabiyah khwar_zari) is one of her finds.
Mariam came across this article together with a few more from the late Mohammed ‘Ayish al Qaydi, who passed away in the 1990s. Fortunately, his family had luckily held on to the items and were willing to sell them to The Zay Initiative.
The general term used for this article of clothing is (ghutrah) or (kufiyah), the lighter white cotton format is known in the UAE as (sufrah), while the checkered red and white or black and white or other combinations of colour is known in the whole Arab region as (shmagh), and when it is used to cover the face, it is known as (ltham). In winter the men sometimes opt for cashmere (shal) versions in order to keep warm.
Covering the head is a daily routine for Arabs since older times, as the ghutrah served as protection from the sun or sand storms and looked at as a marker of identity.
This (sufrah) is a square piece of lightweight white cotton voile. It is customarily folded diagonally into a triangle and placed on the head, or on top of a small white skullcap (gahfiyah), and maybe worn in different ways: loose, on the sides, towards the rear, or even tied in a knot.
When worn by a young male in the UAE, it is wrapped in a unique turban style and is known as (hamdaniyah), referencing the late shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Nahyan known to have sported it in the area.
Formally, a ghutrah is secured by a two-loop coil of black braided cord (‘igal) on top of the head, that is heavy and coarse enough to keep a grip on the ghutrah and prevent it from slipping. The diameter of the ‘igal is smaller than the head, thus the weight is essential to hold it centred on top of the head. Originally used to hobble camels or cattle, and back in time, it was made of tightly woven black goat hair or sheep’s wool. Some models have one or two long cords with suspended tassels (tarbush) at the rear.
Styling, such as fixing the tip to form a sharp angle symbolising an eagle’s beak, is pretty much the equivalent of choosing which knot to tie a western tie, and is often a marker of identity, for example, the Qatari’s are distinguishable by the style of their ghutrah known as the cobra, inspired by the snake look, sharp and pointy from the front.
Nowadays, the price of this woven cotton fabric varies depending on the quality of the yarn it is made of, the more the article is processed, the more expensive it will be, with some acquiring international designer labels.