We were fortunate to obtain this rare article, and another similar one (ZI1975.50030 UAE), from one source. Both are in great condition.
Due to the prevailing notions of modesty in Arab cultures, this is one of the rarest undergarments in the UAE. Objects like this rarely come to market because of their age, their high value due to the silver adornment, and last but not least, because they are undergarments (sarwal).
Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli has only come across a few silver examples in her lifetime. We are lucky to have three of them in The Zay Collection.
This example was purchased from a lady who, for the above-mentioned rationale, chose not to give her name, thus we know her as Um Abdullah, from the Al Muhairi tribe of the UAE.
Um Abdullah had stopped wearing this object because it’s old-fashioned. She had held on to it due to the value of the silver cuffs (badlah fadhah) and for sentimental reasons. The garment was inherited (mkhalaf_’alayiha) from her mother, who in turn was bequeathed it from her mother. As a child, Um Abdullah remembers her grandmother wearing them.
She felt reserved (hishim) over letting go of such an intimate article of dress. Like many other women who do not comprehend the documentary value of placing their items within a historical collection, they could only be encouraged to sell their items to The Zay Collection following the suggestion that they use the proceeds as (sadaqah), to help build a mosque or school. Their reserve was multi-layered; it being an undergarment and an intimate article of dress. In addition, the act of selling can infer financial need, and even after they were convinced to do so for the sake of charity, they followed the tradition that dictates one does not publicly declare good deeds.
Basic pink cotton fabric is used for this garment. The baggy waistline is gathered and fixed in place with the quintessential traditional cotton cord (nsai’ah). The more tapered legs with embellished ankle-cuffs show the remanence of metal snap studs (siq_w_biq) to open and close, possibly replacing earlier traditional cotton thread ball buttons (igam).
As silver is the main embellishing element of the decorative cuffs (talli badlah) on this undergarment (sarwal), it means they were not made for everyday use, except for those who could afford it.
Made of braided pure silver straw (khus talli) they represent a physical example of the traditional Arabic saying (zinah_wa_khazinah), meaning “beauty and wealth in one”. The silver normally decorated the visible cuffs (badlah) to show status and style and could be melted down and sold in times of need.
The visible cuffs are generally composed of multiple lines of braids (fatlat) or (ftul), that are individually created by knotting together cotton (hdub), silk (brisam) or synthetic (nailon) threads with silver (fadhah), gold plated, or metallic (zari) straw. This has resulted in the creation of over forty distinct recorded designs, in varying widths and intricacies, often named after the motifs depicted on them.
The badlah consists of the large central part (bayt) and the edges (traf) or (bruwi). The bayt can be between one and twenty braids of (ftul talli) with different decorations, then the braids are sewn manually with each other so that the bayt is surrounded by the traf to form its borders.
The traditional basic style of badlah includes several stripes called (talli_shakl) also known as (bruwi), which are located between the bayt and the traf. Usually, a (talli_qitan) is placed on the lower edge, while the upper edge is decorated with a (talli_ghuli) or (talli_minsharah). Each braid is made separately and then the braids are manually sewn together.
The large and wide badlah as this example illustrates is usually reserved for social occasions, and the smaller, narrower one as in the other sample (ZI1975.50030 UAE) is applied on an everyday sarwal or those worn by an elderly woman.
In this example, the top braid is in black cotton (hdub) thread and silver straw khus, created in a saw tooth motif called (talli_minsharah); below it is two sets of five running stitch motifs (talli_ftul); followed by the fourth band in green cotton thread and silver straw, in one running snake-like (talli_ghuli) motif; the fifth band is in a red 5 cm running stitch motif (talli_ftul); followed by a 2 cm wide band of repetitive alternating triangular motifs (talli_muthalathat).
The cuff edges (traf) are created in the style of 5 cm (talli_ftul); using red then white, followed by a central 1 cm wide running snake (talli_ghuli_mraba’) motif; followed by three lines of (talli_gitan).