Scent of a Rural Woman [Archives:1998/10/Culture]

March 9 1998

Women in the countryside have their own locally produced scents and perfumes. Rural women differ from their more urbanized sisters in the way and occasion of using scents. There is a uniquely beautiful way of applying the naturally made perfume to the body that is employed by rural women. It is using the “moshqur,” a collection of sweet basil and the petals of three or four other scented flowers planted in Yemen. These flowers’ names vary from one area to another in Yemen. To form a moshqur, a small bunch of these flowers is tucked into the head scarf near the cheek.

A paste called “zobd” made of crushed rose petals and other perfumes is then applied behind the ears and dabbed on the hair. To add more verve to the wholeensemble of perfumes, incense is used. Incense is usually made up of a mixture of sugar, sandalwood, and natural perfumes. This mixture is then cooked to form small hard discs, which are later crushed and packed ready to be used by burning them and allowing the scented smoke to permeate into the clothes. On top of all that, liquid perfume made from the water of a mixture of flower petals is also applied.
Clothes are also normally scented with what is called musk dust – small white sugar-like perfume crystals mixed with crushed scent roots which are sprinkled in the clothes trunk. This mixture gives the clothes a beautiful light scent, which remains for a long time.
Instead of the usual synthetic creams used by townswomen, women in the countryside use “shanad”, beeswax and butter or sesame oil melted on low heat and left to cool to form a cream. A mixture of perfumes is added to the “shanad” which is then stored in a little glass container to be applied to the face or hands.

It should be noted that rural women spend most of their time on the farm, and only use such perfumes and adornments on Fridays and on special occasions. If the husband is away working in the city or abroad, the wife beautifies herself on his return home. As for unmarried girls, all these perfumes and other natural cosmetics are applied lightly and only on special occasions such as weddings and feasts.
A Yemeni woman thus tries to always keep something of the past. She appears in front of her husband as the queen of her house who has no rival among other females.
It should be noted here that urban women in Yemen, due to their rural roots, still retain some of the traditions of the countryside. They always look for beautiful perfumes and try to be creative in mixing them. In the southern and eastern regions of Yemen, for example, “majmuo'” is used. Majmou’ is a garland of Arabic jasmine and other scented flowers used to tie the hair.
Khairiya Al-Shibeebi