At an informal gathering in Al Ain, as Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli was asking questions about the topic of clothing, she enquired about the significance of different forms of face masks (burgu). Among the guests, a lady was quick to volunteer many answers. The two became involved in a discussion and Latifah Hamdan, Um S’ud, disclosed that though she no longer practices wearing the article since she is a working woman, she still might have an example that was made by her mother, that she was happy to gift to Dr. Reem.
The next morning Latifah’s driver delivered this rare face mask (burgu). A typical gesture practiced around the Arab world, where people will generously gift items simply because one asked questions and showed interest in a topic or an object.
Latifah Hamdan, Um S’ud, is an Al Ain university graduate, with a BA in education. She married her paternal cousin her first year at university. She bore two daughters and four sons. She insisted on entering the work force and became an elementary teacher.
Wearing a face mask is first and foremost considered a symbol of coming to age. Most girls were socially rather than religiously obliged to start wearing it at puberty. Since this used to coincide with the common age of marriage in earlier times, it automatically signified a wed woman. Starting during the 1980s, urbanisation, higher education, and eventually entering the workforce pushed the marriage age up and helped terminate this habit, restricting it to earlier generations or special social events.
All face masks (burgu) consist of an upper forehead line (yabhah), followed by the eye-opening (gardhah), (shal’ah) or (dam’ah), the nose-ridge (sayif), cheek line (Satar) or satir, the beak (kharrah), the inner lining (batanah), and the cords (shbuch) that fasten the object in place.
The overall shape (gardhah) of the face mask (burgu) is designed in harmony with the individual’s facial features, where certain assets can be accentuated and conversely faults are concealed. Generally daintier examples that show more facial features are used by the younger and newly married, or for social gatherings, while boxier more concealing versions are worn in public, by the elderly and widows. Mostly, they are identified and named based on shape, location, or function.
This example follows the (yasi) tribal style, thus called burgu yasi, it could also be called burgu (myani) in reference to its size and shape. It is fastened to the head using braided silver metallic cord (shbuch).
It is cut out of indigo-dyed cotton (kharjat_nil) and found in grades of bluish to purple, which is commonly rubbed and pounded to produce a metallic luster ranging from yellow to brown to reddish-gold as is the case in this example.
The indigo dye would stain the wearer’s face after repeated wear which meant a cloth lining, usually made from cotton, was stitched on to the back to help lessen the stain residue. By the 1980s the trend changed to using strips of masking tape (lazig), as is clear in this example. These were superseded at the turn of the century by clear transparent adhesive sheets, cut to shape.