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Palestinian Jewellery

Contributed by Turathuna Bethlehem University on 24.08.2006:

A variety of silver bracelets, necklaces, chockers, hair ornaments and rings were worn by villagers and bedouin and made by silversmiths based in all the main towns. Like garments, Palestinian jewellery was subject to continual foreign influence. Silversmiths can easy travel with their craft, and many migrated to Palestine from other parts of Arabia during periods of Levantine prosperity or hardship in thier own countries.

Palestine jewellery styles and techniques have diverse origins. Some silversmiths specialised in specific articles and styles, which were worn by the women in the catchment area of their town, leading to some regional differences in jewellery, but many articles were worn over much of the country. Bedouin in the eastern hills and Jordan valley tended to wear silver made in Nablus, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, while that worn by the bedouin of the southern Negev desert was made and purchased mainly in Gaza and Beersheba. Towns people, villagers and bedouin living in the same areas bought their jewellery from the same shops and wore similar styles, the main difference being in the value of the pieces. The well-to-do bought jewellery of the highest grade of silver, while cheaper items made from coins of lower grade silver and brass were bought by the less well-off customers, espicially the bedouin.

Certain jewellery was important for its beneficial physical effects as well as for decoration. Cylinders (khiyara, literally ‘cucumber’) often contained Koranic inscriptions on tiny papers scrolls, and oval and rectangular pendant amulets (maskeh) were often engraved with the name of Allah. Triangular packets containing inscriptions were also from leather or beading. Among bedouin women, the wearing of stones, beads and other articles such as tortoise-shells and alum was thought to prevent specific illnesses or promote well-being. For example a smooth white bead (kharzet al-halib) is still believed to promote lactation, and a dark green bead (kharzet al-kabseh) to prevent post-natal diseases.

Blue beads, and glass beads with ‘eyes’ (‘owayneh, made in Hebron), were considered particularly efficacious against the ‘evil-eye’ – the jealous glance of certain malevolent persons which was believed to cause disaster, illness or death. Children were specially vulnerable to the ‘evil eye’, and were kept scruffy and unwashed to avoid attracting dangerous attention. Their caps were often covered with amulets, and beads and charms were attached to their clothing. Women’s tattoos were also thought to ward off the evil eye.

Bracelets of blue and brown glass, made in Hebron, were once widely worn, and necklaces made from coral, imitation pearls and cloves were popular among bedouin and villagers, cloves being specially associated with weddings.

Bedouin woman in southern Palestine:

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She is wearing a silver chocker(kirdan), worn by both bedouin and villagers.

From the late 1920s and 1930s, as people became better off, gold jewellery, mass-produced in Beirut and Damascus, gradually replaced silver; at first gold coins were strung on cords and necklaces; later mass-produced gold necklaces, bracelets and rings appeared in the shops, and new types of jewellery appeared, still fashionable today, such as earings, hair-slides and brooches for fastening the necks of dresses. So jewellery of foreign origins replaced local products, the Palestinian villagers were drawn into the modern, international market, as happened with garments and materials.

Here are some jewelleries in southern and northern Palestine:

Silver Chin-Chain (iznaq, Bethlehem in the Mandate Period:

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Most villagers wore iznaqs with single or doubled chains; the seven chains and elaborate ornaments of the Bethlehem period iznaq proclaimed their superior wealth. It was suspended from the sides of the tall headdress (shatweh).

Silver necklace or chin-chain(iznaq), southern Palestine, British Mandate period:

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The chain with flat links is typical of the chin-chains worn in the Ramallah area. Silver Turkish coins, and a MariaTheresa coins ( abu risheh which means ‘father of feathers).

Silver chocker ( kirdan), southern Palestine, British Mandate period:

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Made mainly is Nablus, in different qualities and prices depending on the number pf ornaments.

Detail from a silver necklace, mainly worn in the Hebron area:

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More expensive versions were gilded.

Silver ‘lentil’ bangles (habbet ‘adaseh):

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Worn (often in sixes) in the towns and in the wealthier villages such as Bethlehem and Ramallah.

Silver bracelet ( aswareh habbiyat), made maily in nablus:

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Worn by villagers in the central hills, usually in pairs, one on each wrest.

Woman , Al-‘Azazmeh bedouin, Negev desert, 1974:

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A bedouin woman is wearing bead necklaces, a gold nose ring (shnaf), a hair slide with gold coins, and a machine-embroidered dress.

Necklace, Negev bedouin :

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A variety of beads, cloves, and mother of pearl spacers. Clove necklaces were associated with weddings.

Source: Weir, shelagh. Palestinian costume.1989.

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