The headdress of Palestinian woman is like her bank account – according to local wisdom. This and the jewellery worn by Bedouin and women of other cultural groups in this region may have its origin in their traditional nomadic way of life, but also in strong loyalties and reliance on kin-network.

The headdress of Palestinian style, known as shatweh in Bethlehem, is in the shape of a man’s tarboosh. It is made of padded and stiffened layers of embroidered broadcloth and linen. Shatweh is held on the head by a chin chain –znaq- attached on both sides.

The variety of headdresses in Palestine reflects local cultural differences. The most common is a bonnet with hair bands attached at the back. It is known by different terms, smadeh in Galilee, safe or wegayeh in Romallah and araqqeyeh in Hebron. In Jerusalem the headdress is a small embroidered round cap.

A female headdress shatweh, Palestine, late 19th century.
A female headdress shatweh, Palestine, late 19th century. Image: Stan Florek
© Australian Museum

The headdress, in all different forms, is usually decorated with coins. Muslim women would use Arabic coins and Christian women European (sometimes mixed). The same was with jewellery, especially neck ornaments, where coins were an integral part of the design.

Headdresses decorated with coins were commonly used in the 19th century. At the outset of the 20th century they went out of daily use, but continued to be used for weddings and some other special occasions.

Additional information:

Palestine has always been multi-cultural and multi ethnic, as it is implied in Biblical narratives, travellers’ accounts over the centuries and documentation by modern scholars.

“Bracelets are for the difficult times” – Arabic proverb. 

Some of these accessories will be on display in the exhibition ‘1001 Nights’ at the Fairfield City Museum & Gallery (22 August–16 November).