Monday, July 2, 2007

Badla 3arbiya

Literally Badla 3arbiya means 'Arab Suit', which seems a curious term, but like the similar 'raqs sharqi' or eastern dancing it's strange self-referentiality (as opposed to the descriptively inaccurate belly-dancing) is probably most significant in recording the fact that the 'native' was no longer the default.

In the Libyan dialect it refers to the traditional woman's costume: a tunic (gmaja), a sort of vest called a kurdiya, trousers and a huge length of cloth elaborately arranged over the whole. It is the latter that is the most distinctive piece, and the material, colour and wrap of it defines the ensemble, identifying the region and occasion.

A 6rabilsi (Tripoli) style gmaja and kurdiya with the matching r'da in the background. Nowadays women don't necessarily wear their region's design, and there are crazes for this or that style every wedding season.

Variations of this costume are worn in the Maghreb (North-Africa with the exception of most of Egypt), but even within Libya there is a wide range of styles. The major difference here is between the Eastern and the Western style: the gmaja is different, but it is mostly to do with the wrap of the r'da which in the East is usually worn higher up, a few centimeters below the knees, while in the west it almost reaches the ankles. To match this the Sirwal (what the occident likes to call harem-pants) is calf-length in the east and ankle length in the west, as in both cases it has to show from beneath the r'da.

A Libyan bride is given two such costumes by the groom, and as they are woven of silk and silver threads (although the latter are sometimes tinted gold), together with the jewellery she has quite a wearable fortune as this painting (from Flying Birds) of a Libyan 3arusa in full regalia shows.

The buttons are gold too! Like the jewellery one set of these is used with any number of 'badlat'- they're sewn unto the one you happen to be wearing.

A crescent moon, a five-pointed star and a hand - all are seen as 'Islamic' symbols although the hand in particular, which superstition regards as warding off the evil eye, is not.

There is usually a repeating pattern, which together with the colour combination creates the variable elements to each design. There are fashions and designers, and customers can also order their own unique creations direct from the specialised factories.

The same factories also buy the badlat, and burn them (!) to extract the silver from which to make new thread and weave new rdawat. Some are just about falling to bits and desperately need a reincarnation; but quite often the badla is sold because the owner wants to 'cash it in', whether because she needs the money, never wore it since her wedding or has worn it so often that she's sick of it and wants something more up-to-date. A less combustive form of recycling seems possible as I've heard people are now buying what is in good condition to use as fabrics for interior decoration.


Tasbeeh said...

Libyan outfits are so strange, now that I think of it. I never thought of them from an outsider's view beofre because I grew up with them. But now that I think of it, they're not like any other traditional cothes.

duniazad said...

not to mention uncomfortable! but i think they sort of look nice (as long as someone else is wearing them:)

WEDA said...

really as we all know that our libyan costumes r beautiful....but u make them more by making them visible 2 every one.......good luck