This basic black light cotton gauze (shash) head veil (shaylah) was gifted to Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli on one of her field trips to the remote mountainous northern area of Hatta in the UAE as she was compiling data for her PhD research on this topic from the late 1980s onwards.
She met with Selma Ahmed, Um Salim a craftswoman skilled in metallic straw adornment (talli) who helped explain details of this traditional craft. The two women struck a chord and Selma gifted this veil to Dr. Reem. In due course, it was added to The Zay Collection in memory of Selma who passed away at the age of 92, in early 2013.
Selma was a simple woman who never learned how to read or write. She was married to her paternal cousin at the young age of 14 and gave birth to 6 daughters and 3 sons. She learned the trade from her mother and aunts who were all skilled in metallic straw adornment talli and facemask (burgu) making.
This light rectangular plain Indian cotton gauze (shash) head veil is simply a length of fabric that came in different weights and weave densities. It is commonly used in the UAE and the whole Arab gulf region to cover the head and upper body. It is known very broadly by the term (nidwah) or (wasmah) or (wigayah).
In the pre-80s when times were hard, two lengths (fajatayn) of the fabric were sewn together lengthwise at the central edge to create a large wide rectangular form that could engulf the whole body and act as an outer cloak worn at home or in public by most working women. A functional and more economical version of the cloak (abayah) which, in earlier times, could only be afforded by the few elites among the tribe. The two narrower cut outer edges of the fabric were generally left naively unhemmed, fraying the cotton threads off to use for hand stitching the central portion.
The fabric is generally draped off the head and allowed to just float around to cover most of the body. It is often held in place by biting on a section of the draped fabric close to the left or right cheeks. At times the loose ends are gathered, crumbled and tucked under one arm, or held tight with one hand to cover the whole body and face allowing for just one eye to appear to facilitate vision.
Another common public practice within the region is to pull down the top portion above the forehead concealing the whole face down to the chest line, or reversely hold one of the draped corners in both hands and flip it up to cover the crown concealing the entire face, neck, and chest areas. This then renders the article a (ghishwah) from the verb to conceal. Both actions are carried out by women very swiftly, elegantly, and somewhat sensuously when any non-relative male crosses their path unexpectedly.