Links between traditional dress and city architecture [Archives:2007/1044/Culture]

April 23 2007

Amatalrazak Yahya Jahaf
Regarding its comprehensive significance, folklore is no more than a pleasant human act satisfying man's spiritual and material needs. It is the standard from which this article will attempt to prove the integrated organic unity between the various components comprising Yemen's cultural heritage. It is evidence of Yemenis' psychological health and spiritual beauty reflected in dance, music, architecture and costume.

Sana'ani folkloric costume

A traditional Sana'ani house is built of two key blocks, the first of which is built of strong stones comprising the home's foundation, while the second is made of brick and comprises the rest of the house. The particular area of the street as well as the home's height offer comfortable movement within a space protected from direct sunlight.

Both the building materials and the thickness of walls prevent heat from transferring into and out of the home, while those spaces subjected to the external environment are small due to adjacent houses and narrow alleys. Likewise, such characteristics and significant engineering features are reflected in Sana'ani folk costumes.

The difference between those facades overlooking the south, whose doors receive the winter sun's warmth, and north facades, which are more enclosed and less beautiful, are reproduced in traditional Sana'ani costumes made of cotton and linen; thus, preventing the cold from reaching the body, while wrapping oneself in wool dress in the summer will cause the body to be unaffected by the heat.

A beautiful relationship exists between intervals and completeness, in addition to the balance between flat and raised stones, which reflects the functional relationship between a building and its adornment, wherein every useful element is adorned.

This is reflected clearly in Sana'ani folk dress, as some parts are adorned while others aren't. For example, only those parts performing a certain function will be adorned, such as the ends of the sleeves and the neck opening. Additionally, there's a delicate balance between the use of colored beads and semi-precious stones decorating the adorned portions.

Further, a Sana'ani home's jutting bay windows enable those inside to see outside without being seen. The same function is served by a cotton covering called Al-Maghmouq and dyed with red, black and white patches.

Although builders and carpenters take care when mixing the various elements of decor together into a fine artistic unit with strict detail and integrated engineering designs, they don't avoid adding special imprints to Sana'ani buildings in order to preserve detail and prevent boredom or uniformity. The same applies to the care a professional Yemeni woman takes in mastering adornment and embroidery art.

Although it may seem repetitive and similar at first glance, every part and color has its own characteristic. Further, different types of jewelry are selected to suit each costume, as jewelry selection is considered complementary to a woman's uniqueness and distinction. This seems clear in many types of Sana'ani women's dress, such as Al-Ospah, which is a mixture of many materials and colors with a harmonious mixture of silver jewelry and red coral stone

The top of a Sana'ani house is considered its main and most important part, so builders pay all of their attention to decorating it, using their skills to draw different inscriptions until the house appears in its full style. The way of decorating Yemeni buildings is reflected in Yemeni women's dress in that women take care to decorate their head and hair with wonderfully different designs and decorations for both formal and informal occasions.

For small parties, women wear Al-Masar Al-Tali'a along with special jewelry called al-brashat or al-fratiq al-faratiq, whereas for special occasions like wedding parties, they spend much time decorating their heads with jewelry, flowers or other decorations to make themselves more attractive.

The Yemeni Taj (crown) is coordinated with decorative dress and special jewelry called al-faratiq, which is placed on a bride's head. As a reflection of Yemeni window design, which looks like the form of a qamariyya, the upper portion of windows in Sana'ani homes, Al-Masar Al-Tali'a begins by folding a square into a triangular shape. It's then wrapped around a piece of cardboard shaped like a crown (a half circle). After wrapping the fabric, its edges can be tied around the head.

Zabidi traditional dress

The buildings of Zabid are designed simply, thus reflecting the simplicity and spirit of its people. Buildings normally consist of one floor with a high roof, a wide window and open space inside the home. Likewise, Zabidi traditional dress is made of only one material without mixing colors. Most often, a white dress is worn; however, Zabidi women will wear a black dress on some special occasions.

White decoration is used more for Zabidi houses, especially on the front, which is made from white material called Al-Norah, thus displaying unity in decoration and the beauty of Zabidi homes. Just as builders, Zabidi women use the same concept when decorating their clothing. Only using embroidery, their dress gleams like the dawn with silver threads forming a wonderfully harmonious design.

Generally, like Zabidi buildings, it is a loose dress, especially in the sleeves and at the sides, which extend from the top to the bottom of the dress.

On their heads, Zabidi residents wear a conical-shaped straw hat decorated at its edges.

Hadrami dress design and Shibami architecture

Traditional Hadrami building design consists of several mud floors separated with a mud line. Hadrami buildings actually border each other in a progressive row, which is similar to the design of Hadrami dress. The dress's neckline is square with bands embroidered around it and at the edges.

The entrance to a Shibami house opens directly to the stairs and leads to the upper floors, which corresponds to why the front of Hadrami dresses are short. Also, the lack of decoration on the front of the house, unless it's in the wooden doors and windows, reflects why Hadrami dress is decorated only at the top and the bottom.