Traditional Bedouin Aba as Saudi Arabian Heritage Essay

The Bedouin tribes have been romanticized in the literature that represents them as an essence of nomadic ways and customs, an of strange people. However, with the course of time, instead of the definition of a lifestyle, the term Bedouin became the determinant of an identity (Cole 237). Today, a Bedouin is the living epitome of tradition. Despite the fact that the Bedouin villages in the 21st century scarcely remain as a tourist attraction, there are many Bedouin descendants, and the Bedouin customs in housing, trading, eating, and clothing still linger. I am going to speak about a traditional and the most basic piece of garment used by Saudi Bedouins: the aba, or abaya.

The aba or abaya is defined as a piece of outer clothing. It is stated that, in Saudi Bedouin culture, the aba is worn mostly by men. However, women can see seen wearing the garment as well. Most commonly, the aba looks like a gown without sleeves, buttons, or belts. That means, it is worn on top of all other clothes and is not closed over the body. The form and shape of the aba are common for a wide part of the Middle East; with Bedouins, it is very popular. The aba can be worn by women as well as men, and it is practically equal in size and shape to those of men. Bedouin tribes dwelling in different areas of Saudi Arabia have diverse traditions concerning this piece of garment. In the Eastern regions, the aba is produced out of wool, and the material has a striped pattern in black or brown and white. The colors are plain since wearing bright colors is the prerogative of the notable and rich. These usually have their abas in red or green, richly embroidered with precious golden or silver thread in the upper half of the garment. Nomad tribes in the North wear their abas black, which is a rare color among other tribes (Algar par. 1-4).

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The aba has many uses among the Bedouin. It is a loose garment, which means that it can be deployed to a variety of functions. For instance, the aba can serve as a blanket or sheet and as a pillow, when folded. Considering that the Bedouin made their living by trade, one can easily see a Bedouin wrapping their goods in the aba and carrying it as a bag or turning it into some kind of a sunshade. The abas is suitable for wearing all year round. The abas woven of camel wool is very warm and can serve as a winter overcoat. Those made of a finer material are used in warm seasons (Algar par. 5).

Today, a significant change in attitudes towards traditional Bedouin garments can be noticed, especially in women. People of Qatar, for instance, are the descendants of Bedouin tribes dwelling the central and eastern regions of Saudi Arabia. It is stated that older Qatari women still wear their abas as well as other traditional garments, if only more colorful than they used to be. Since the 1980s, Qatari women were seen wearing the abas over modern clothes, i.e., loose gowns. In 1997, Qatar has opened its first shopping mall. Thus Western clothing has become popular with the Qatari female population. Another significant change in the Qatari society was that while at the same time seeking to keep their customs and avoid harassment from the . More emancipate women openly fight for their rights to choose the way they dress and look. As a result, the contemporary Qatari aba comes in various and more convenient shapes than it used to (Goto 22-24).

The change of attitudes towards traditional garments is very useful for a clearer understanding of the processes that take place in the Saudi Bedouin society. I have said that a Bedouin, especially a Bedouin woman, nowadays is a representation of tradition, and it is true. The volition to preserve the traditions of womanhood, femininity, and beauty triggers the perseverance of abas among Qatari women. At the same time, the Western styles and ways are gradually and persistently penetrating the lifestyle of contemporary Bedouins. They become more independent and individualistic, they acknowledge that how to dress and look is a violation of womens rights. Consequently, the abas, as well as other traditional clothing items, e.g., hijab, in design and come in looser and more convenient forms. Thus, the aba is a crucial piece of garment that means very much for Qatari women. On the one hand, the aba worn with other traditional clothes is a symbol of national identity and belonging to renowned Bedouin culture, both within their homeland and abroad (Fields 58). On the other hand, Qatari women are making use of the traditional aba, changing its design to their liking and convenience to demonstrate their individualism, distinguish themselves in the society they belong to, and embrace the everlasting struggle for female rights.

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