Traditional Yemeni costumes, diverse, eye-catching and beautifulBeauty in Yemeni eyes Part (1-2) [Archives:2003/632/Culture]

April 21 2003
Traditional costumes still worn by women in Saber. Gold is ringed around womans necks and flower is put on left cheek has been still also common.
Traditional costumes still worn by women in Saber. Gold is ringed around womans necks and flower is put on left cheek has been still also common.
Jambia (dagger), an ornament worn by men as a symbol of pride and dignity
Jambia (dagger), an ornament worn by men as a symbol of pride and dignity
Taiz Bureau Staff
Yemen Times

Far beyond the actual reasons why clothes where invented, which is obviously for coverage and protection from cold and heat, dressing today has taken a more significant place in every nation's culture. Costumes, especially traditional clothes, have become symbols to indicate the identity, religion, financial status and even class of its wearer. Not only country wise, but region wise and in many cases even villages have a particular costume they are known of, especially in places where cultural impact is high.

Islam and Costumes
Being a conservative religion, Islam has emphasized the decency and cultured sense of dressing for both men and women. Yet, it left a wide margin for beauty and fashion, which were both not only permissible but in sometimes desirable. Islam encouraged well dressing and stressed on cleanness and hygiene. It stated this on several occasions in the Holy Quran and Sunnet (Prophet Mohammed's (mpbh) sayings). They talked about the importance of appearance and cleanliness with no exaggeration or dwelling into vanity and showing off. Islam in fact encourages women to beautify themselves in their homes to look attractive to their husbands.

Yemeni Costumes
Since ancient times, Yemen was famous for its beautiful dresses and textile quality to the extent that it once became a legendry aspect and proverbs about special Yemeni costumes such as the Tihami, Hadrami and Lahji.
The appearance and texture of clothes and costumes were influenced by many factors including climate, age, occasion, social class, status, wealth, etc. Evidently, the most influential factors were the climate and the social status.
Speaking about climate; the longest coast in Arabia (2,200 km long) had to have its significance on the inhabitants of costal areas starting from Hodaida passing by Aden and ending with Al-Sheher. In addition to the numerous Yemeni islands in both the Red and Arabian Seas, in those areas, customary people wear light colored cotton clothes that reduce heat and do not absorb much sun rays. Men generally wear a light shirt or t-shirt with what is called “Foota” or “Meawaz” which is a rectangle-shaped cotton cloth wrapped around the waist. Women wear what is called “Direa'” which is a single piece light and almost transparent sleeveless dress with proper undergarments beneath.

Tell me what you wear, I'll tell you where you are from
In mountainous areas such as Taiz, Sabir, Ibb, Wisab and Shar'ab; people live in places located on mountains ranging from 800 to 1,500 meters above sea level. Consequently they wear rather dark and heavy clothes to protect them from cold and wind. The social status is also resembled in the type and style of clothes. In ancient times, the class system was much more prominent than it is today, and in those days, people used to wear clothes that indicate their class. Basically, there were four main social classes from highest to lowest: princes and “Sada” (descendants of Prophet Mohammed -mpbh), Judges, Tribes, the rest of the public. Out of all four, only the judges seem to still retain their customary dress code being a one piece long dress open in the middle with long glittering embroidered sleeves reaching the neck and sides of the dress, something like what the Saudi royal princes wear today. Underneath this elaborately decorated coat, they wear a long white one piece dress with buttons on the chest, resembling the 'Qamees' worn today by Yemeni men.
It is interesting that even within judges, the type of buttons and their value also signifies their hierarchy or rank in their own class itself. And most importantly, the Janbiya, which is a classical dagger worn in a belt on the waist, and the way it is worn (slanted to the side) indicate the rank of the judge in his class. A shawl decorated on the edges is generally worn on one shoulder, and finally the judges head is covered with an “Amama”, which is a piece of cloth wrapped neatly on a white small cap giving the judge's appearance more authority and respect.

But where did the Janbiya come from?
Historians say that the Yemeni Janbiya dates back to 400 BC. Some even date it back to the seventh century before Christ. Old people say it was termed this way because it used to be worn on the side “Janb” of men's waists probably for protection. Like everything else, the types of Janbiya vary according to region and class. The famous Bedouin Janbiya is popular in Marib, Shabwa and Al-Baidha. There is also the Hadrami Janbiya, which is worn in different parts of Hadramout. There are two distinctive types of Janbiyas when considering shape; The most popular Janbiya that is worn by most Yemenis is long shaped like a “J”. While the less common one which is rather less slanted and more like a diagonal curve, is mostly restricted to the judges and higher classes.

Old is gold… or maybe silver?
Detailing the structure of the Janbiya, it is composed of the head, which is the most valuable part because it is made of rhinoceros, giraffe or other animals' horns and is decorated with two pieces of gold or silver. The head of the Janbiya is fixed on the longer part which is a metallic dagger inserted in a solid container called “Aseeb” of the same shape but made of wood or sliver. The whole piece is attached to a wide belt made of leather or hay covered with an elaborately golden decorated cloth. A common Janbiya could cost from around US$10 to US$300. The most expensive Janbiya known in Yemen is that referred to Imam Sharaf Eldin (one of the Imams who ruled Yemen before the revolution). It is a Janbiya that is 751 years old and is valued at one million dollar!
Sentimentally, the Janbiya is closely attached to manliness and deep cultural roots. Any single Yemeni (residing in Yemen) must have worn a Janbiya at least once in his life if not owning one as it also represents the artistic nature of Yemeni men with its beautiful decorations and styles.