The Storage Jar (Al-Khabiya)
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 30.06.2007:
By Khaldoun Bishara
According to the Arabic dictionary, Al-Waseet, al-khabiya (pl. khawabi) is a large jar in which water is stored. In Palestine, however, al-khabiya means a storehouse used for keeping crops.
But al-khabiya, sometimes called al-khabi’a (pl. khawabe’), is not a Palestinian invention. Ancient archaeological excavations have revealed evidence that these storage jars were used to stock wine and food. Al-Khabiya is usually made up of dried mud and has the shape of a large jar; in Palestine, it could have the shape of a trunk.
Every farmer’s house in Palestine had a khabiya, situated between the mastaba (a stone bench) and the rawiya (storage space), which constituted a large divider between the living quarters and the kitchen, and between the bedroom and rawiya.
Natural material was used in the construction of the khawabi: argillaceous earth, husks, and straw. Like the construction of the taboon (brick oven), the building of the khabiya was a feminine activity. Women mixed the mud with their hands, smoothed the inside and outside walls of the khawabi, and moistened and covered them so that they would not dry quickly. As a result of constant friction with mud, the women’s hands turned white. Small khawabi were built in the front yard and then carried inside the house, but most of the khawabi were built in the designated location in the rawiya. In fact, the location of the khabiya was close to an opening thirty centimetres in diameter, called rozana, through which crops like corn, wheat, lentils, and others, were dropped into the khabiya after separation from chaff.
The inside of the khabiya was divided into several parts through perpendicular mud screens allowing for the storage of different kinds of crops. It rose above ground level by thirty centimetres to prevent humidity from creeping into the crops. The top opening of the khabiya was relatively wide to allow crops to be dropped more easily from the rozana through a cloth spout. The lower front part of the khabiya had a small circular opening covered with cloth.
Only a few khawabi and rozanas have remained in Palestine. Many of the houses were deserted and their khawabi demolished. There is nothing easier than demolishing a khabiya and nothing more difficult than reconstructing it. The hands that once built the khawabi turned to other professions, and the khawabi now exist only in our memory.
Khaldoun Bishara works at Riwaq Center for Architectural Conservation.
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