What does a Keffiyeh Symbolize?
The keffiyeh is a headdress – or habit – that is worn throughout Middle Eastern regions. Fashioned from a square-shaped scarf that is typically made of cotton or a blend of cotton and wool, the keffiyeh has quite a fascinating history that dates as far back as the ancient Babylonian and Sumerian civilizations that lived in Mesopotamia. Also referred to as a Palestinian hatta, an Arab scarf, a Shemagh scarf, and a yamegh, this headdress has been worn by for centuries.
A keffiyeh has been worn for several different reasons and has held many different meanings over the course of history. Those reasons and meanings, as well as the style and color of the keffiyeh, vary from one culture to the next. Let’s take a look at the background and symbolism of this important cultural headdress.
Origination of the Keffiyeh
It is believed that the shemagh or yamegh, as it is also referred to, was first worn by Sumerian and Babylonian high priests who wore the headdress to symbolize their position of honor or rank. High priests were considered the rulers of these regions and they had control over the lands on which they lived.
As time moved on, poorer people adopted the keffiyeh as a form of protective gear. It was worn as a form of protection against the elements. In the summer, it protected them from the intense rays of the sun, as well as wind-swept dust and sand; it also served as a tool that they could use to wipe away sweat. In the winter, the scarf was used to shield against cold temperatures, as well as rain.
The symbolism of the Keffiyeh Among Palestinians
Fast forward to the 1900s and the meaning of the keffiyeh changed. During the period of British Mandate, especially during the Arab Revolt of 1936, the headdress was worn by Palestinian rebels to cover their faces and shield their identity so that they could avoid being arrests. To combat wearing the garb as a disguise, the authorities of the British Mandate banned the wearing of the keffiyeh. In response to this ban, all Palestinian people began wearing the headdress as a way to make it more challenging for authorities to identify the rebels.
The events surrounding the Arab Revolt changed altered the symbolism of the keffiyeh. Instead of being worn as a protective covering, Palestinians began wearing the keffiyeh as a way to symbolize their resistance from governing authorities. Today, the garb is still worn as a symbol of resistance; in fact, its symbolism was further strengthened in 1987, with the First Intifada, and again in 2000, with the Second Intifada.
Yasser Arafat, the late president of Palestine, had a significant impact on the keffiyeh as a symbol of the Palestinian’s resistance against occupation during the First and Second intifadas, as he would consistently wore a hatta when he made public appearances. Today, Palestinians continue to wear the keffiyeh as a symbol of solidarity and resistance. It is also worn by people throughout other parts of the world to signify their solidarity with Palestinians.
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