Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli purchased this article of dress in 1993 from Fatimah Al Mghani who had originally sourced it from Um ‘Ubaid of Al Dhanhani tribe.
Fatimah Al Mghani is a social researcher and folklore expert, she is also a friend and fellow colleague of Dr. Reem, a supporter of The Zay Initiative, and a valuable reference in UAE cultural heritage.
Um ‘Ubaid of Al Dhanhani was born in 1953, from the Emirate of Fujairah. A housewife, talented in tailoring and crafts works. Similar to many of her peers, she never acquired any formal schooling. She married her paternal cousin at the age of 15 and bore 3 daughters and 6 sons, who all went on to attain university degrees.
The tunic (Kandurah_arabiyah) is made of a red light weight cotton fabric printed in scattered 2 cm diameter yellow polka dot motif known locally either as (bu_tilah) or (bu_baysah).
It is an important article of dress that demonstrates the post-millennium evolution of this particular tunic dress (kandurah_arabiyah) specific to the UAE and is believed to originate from the Punjabi tunic (kurta).
Its defining feature is the simulated vertical slit (shaj) on the left side of the neckline (halj) that extends down the chest area. The slit (shaj) originally functioned as a means to enlarge the fitted neckline opening and allow the head to pass through, which was then closed and opened by cotton buttons (igam) or snaps (siq_w_biq).
However, in this example, we see the neckline is widened to complement western-style necklaces. Though the outline of this side slit (shaj) continues to be delineated through embroidery and other forms of adornment, the functional element of the side slit (shaj) itself has become obsolete.
Interestingly, one of the key reasons the side slit (shaj) has been maintained in a purely decorative form is due to most tailors being non-native and lacking the background knowledge of the UAE’s cultural heritage. Moreover, many tailors began to include a zipper to the back of the garment which served the exact function of the earlier frontal side slit (shaj).
Sadly, this history of the evolution of the shaj has been lost, not only to these tailors but also to the Emirati women who wear the contemporary versions of this kandurah_arabiyah.
The sleeves are relatively wider than in earlier examples, with some gathering on the shoulders and underarm gusset (bat). They are fastened at the wrists with metal snaps (siq_w_biq).
The embroidery on both the neckline and sleeve cuffs (hyul) is covered in dense machine embroidered lines (khawar daj) resembling traditional UAE silver metallic braids (talli), using silver-coloured metallic thread (zari), with scattered polka dot motifs copying the fabric print in form and size, in yellow and red silk thread (brisam). Thus, known as (tab‘ah ). These polka dots are embellished with clear iron-on crystals at their center.