This headband is the second part of a two-piece ensemble which also includes the embroidered (abayah) (ZI 500490 Syria).
This headband, and its associated abayah, were originally the property of the Emir of Barca in Libya, most likely Idris al-Senussi. In the late 1930s, they were gifted to an anonymous French doctor, in gratitude for preventing the Emir’s son from committing suicide. The doctor was crossing a bridge in Paris when he saw the young man about to jump. After the rescuer’s death, his son sold the two items and they were purchased by the Zay Initiative at auction.
This is a traditional Syrian headband known historically as (mqassab), (oqal), or (shatfah), but which later became known as (faisaly), after King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who used to wear a white and gold one on his head.
This shatfa is handmade in Syria from a long rope that has been folded to look like four ropes arranged on top of each other. The rope is made of orange silk thread and it is wrapped and decorated with gold and dark green thread. In other examples (zari) thread is often used as decoration.
To highlight the rope, the orange thread is left visible at five equidistant points, appearing as knots wrapped in purple thread. The shatfah ends with a tassel made from strands of the orange rope gathered at the top with green thread.
Traditional shatfah headbands are often made of goat’s wool, camel hair, or silk threads, with gold zari embellishment. The form has remained consistent for generations, as evident from old pictures. Shatfah consists of four layers of thread formed into an elegant circular shape. Two sets of two layers each are joined together, and then the four layers are interconnected in the area behind the head. Gold zari is wrapped around several parts, in such a way that the wrapped parts look like ribs, while the visible parts of wool, hair, or silk appear to form knot-like nodes. This effect is most noticeable when the zari area is greater than the space of the visible thread.
Sources mention that the traditional headpiece originated in Syria, first worn by all classes of Bedouin men. Indeed, pictures taken by travelers in the 18th century confirm this. Later, men from the Arab Gulf region began to adopt the shatfah, specifically in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, and Bahrain. Given that silk and gold zari are expensive materials, not everyone could afford to wear this item of dress, thus in the Arab Gulf, only men from the upper classes wore shatfah. Pictures of merchants from the Al-Aqilat family were seen with the shatfah dating back to before 1882CE.