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An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians$

Edward William Lane

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9789774165603

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774165603.001.0001

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(p.517) Appendix A Female Ornaments

(p.517) Appendix A Female Ornaments

An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians
American University in Cairo Press

THE ornaments of the women of Egypt are so various, that a description of them all would far exceed the limits which the nature of this work allows, and would require a great number of engravings, or be useless. I shall, however, describe all the principal kinds; and these will convey some idea of the rest. If the subject be not interesting to general readers, it may at least be of some use to artists, who are often left almost entirely to their own imagination in representing Arabian costumes and ornaments. I first describe those which are worn by ladies, and females of the middle orders.

The head‐dress has already been mentioned, as composed of a “ṭarboosh” and “faroodeeyeh” (or kerchief), which latter, when wound round the former, is called “rabṭah.” The front part of the rabṭah is often ornamented with spangles of gilt or plain silver, disposed in fanciful patterns; and in this case, the rabṭah itself is generally of black or rose‐coloured muslin or crape, and always plain. The more common kinds of rabṭah have been described.

The “mizágee” is an ornament very generally worn. It is composed of a strip of muslin, most commonly black or rose‐coloured, folded together several times, so as to form a narrow band, about the breadth of a finger, or less. Its length is about five feet. The central part, for the space of about twelve or thirteen inches, is ornamented with spangles, which are placed close together, or in the form of diamonds, &c., or of bosses; and at each end, for about the same length, are a few (p.518) other spangles, with an edging, and small tassels, of various‐coloured silks. Sometimes there is also a similar edging, with spangles suspended to it, along the lower edge of the ornamented part in the middle. The mizágee is bound round the head; the ornamented central part being over the forehead, generally above the edge of the rabṭah: it is tied behind, at the upper part of the rabṭah; and the ornamented ends, drawn forward, hang over the bosom.1

The “ḳurṣ” is a round, convex ornament, commonly about five inches in diameter; which is very generally worn by ladies. It is sewed upon the crown of the ṭarboosh.2 There are two kinds. The first that I shall describe (the only kind that is worn by ladies, or by the wives of tradesmen of moderate property,) is the “ḳurṣ almás,” or diamond ḳurṣ. This is composed of diamonds set generally in gold; and is of open work, representing roses, leaves, &c. The diamonds are commonly of a very poor and shallow kind; and the gold of this and all other diamond ornaments worn in Egypt is much alloyed with copper. The value of a moderately handsome diamond ḳurṣ is about a hundred and twenty‐five or a hundred and fifty pounds sterling. It is very seldom made of silver; and I think that those of gold, when attached to the deep‐red ṭarboosh, have a richer effect, though not in accordance with our general taste. The wives even of petty tradesmen sometimes wear the diamond ḳurṣ: they are extremely fond of diamonds, and generally endeavour to get some, however bad. The ḳurṣ, being of considerable weight, is at first painful to wear; and women who are in the habit of wearing it complain of headache when they take it off: hence they retain it day and night; but some have an inferior one for the bed. Some ladies have one for ordinary wearing; another for particular occasions, a little larger and handsomer; and a third merely to wear in bed.—The other kind of ḳurṣ, “ḳurṣ dahab” (or, of gold), is a convex plate of very thin embossed gold, usually of the form represented below; and almost always with a false emerald (a piece of green glass), not cut with facets, set in the centre. Neither the emerald nor the ruby is here cut with facets: if so cut, they would generally be considered false. The simple gold ḳurṣ is lined with a thick coat of wax, which is covered with a piece of paper. It is worn by many women who cannot afford to purchase diamonds; and even by some servants. (p.519)

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Diamond Ḳurṣ.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Gold Ḳurṣ.

The “ḳuṣṣah” is an ornament generally from seven to eight inches in length, composed of diamonds set in gold, and sometimes with emeralds, rubies, and pearls; having drops of diamonds or emeralds, &c., suspended to it. It is worn on the front of the rabṭah, attached by little hooks at the back. I have seen several ḳuṣṣahs of diamonds, &c., set in silver instead of gold. The ḳuṣṣah is generally placed on the head of a bride, outside her shawl covering; as also is the ḳurṣ; and these ornaments are likewise employed to decorate the bier of a female. The former, like the latter, is worn by females of the higher and middle classes.

“’Enebeh” is another name for the same kind of ornament, worn in the same manner. If of full size, it is fourteen or fifteen inches in length; and rather more than half encircles the head‐dress. (p.520)

Appendix A Female Ornaments

1 Ḳuṣṣah;

Appendix A Female Ornaments

2. ’Enebeh; the former, half, and the latter, one‐third, of the real size.

The “shawáṭeḥ” (in the singular, “sháṭeḥ,”) are two ornaments, each consisting of three or more strings of pearls, about the length of the ḳuṣṣah, with a pierced emerald uniting them in the centre, like the usual pearl necklace hereafter described; or they are composed of pearls arranged in the manner of a narrow lace, and often with the addition of a few small emeralds. They are attached to the rabṭah in the form of two festoons, one on each side of the head, from the extremity of the ḳuṣṣah to the back part of the head‐dress, or, sometimes, to the ear‐ring.

Instead of the ḳuṣṣah and shawáṭeḥ, and sometimes in addition to them, are worn some other ornaments which I proceed to describe.

The “reesheh” (literally, “feather,”) is a sprig of diamonds set in gold or silver It is worn on the front or side of the head‐dress.

The “hilál” is a crescent of diamonds set in gold or silver, and worn like the reesheh. In form it resembles the phasis of the moon when between two and three nights old; its width being small, and its outward edge not more than half a circle. (p.521)

Appendix A Female Ornaments

1 and 2. Ḳamarahs.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

3. Sáḳiyeh.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

4. ’Ood eṣ‐Ṣaleeb.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

5 and 6. Mishṭs.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

7. ’Aḳeeḳ.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

8. Belloor.

Each, half the real size.

The “ḳamarah” (or moon) is an ornament formed of a thin plate of gold, embossed with fanciful work, and sometimes with Arabic words, and having about seven little flat pieces of gold, called “barḳ,” attached to the lower part; or it is composed of gold with diamonds, rubies, &c. Two specimens of the former kind are here represented. One of these consists of three ḳamarahs connected together, to be worn on the front of the head‐dress: the central contains the words (p.523) “Yá Káfee Yá Sháfee” (O Sufficient! O Restorer to health!): that on the left, “Yá Ḥáfiẓ” (O Preserver!): that on the right, “Yá Emeen” (O Trustworthy!): these, therefore, are charms as well as ornaments.

The “sáḳiyeh” (or water‐wheel), so called from its form, is a circular flat ornament of gold filigree‐work, with small pearls, and with a diamond or other precious stone in the centre, and barḳ and emeralds suspended from the lower part. It is worn in the same manner as the ḳamarah, or with the latter ornament.

The “’ood eṣ‐ṣaleeb” (or wood of the cross) is a kind of ornament undoubtedly borrowed from the Christians; and it is surprising that Moḥammadan women should wear it, and give it this appellation. It is a little round and slender piece of wood, rather smaller towards the extremities than in the middle, enclosed in a case of gold, of the same form, composed of two pieces which unite in the middle, having two chains and a hook by which to suspend it, and a row of barḳ along the bottom. It is worn in the place of, or with, the two ornaments just before described.

The “mishṭ” (or comb) is a little comb of gold, worn in the same manner as the three kinds of ornament described next before this, and generally with one or more of those ornaments. It is suspended by small chains and a hook, having four or five barḳ attached.

There is also an ornament somewhat similar to those just mentioned, composed of a carnelion, or a piece of crystal or of colourless glass, set in gold, suspended by two chains and a hook, and having barḳ attached to the bottom. The former kind is called “’aḳeeḳ” (which signifies “carnelion”), and the latter, “belloor” (“crystal.”)

Several ornaments in the shapes of flowers, butterflies, &c., are also worn upon the head‐dress; but seldom alone.

Of ear‐rings (“ḥalaḳ”) there is a great variety. Some of the more usual kinds are here represented. The first is of diamonds set in silver. It consists of a drop suspended within a wreath hanging from a sprig. The back of the silver is gilt, to prevent its being tarnished by perspiration. The specimen here given is that for the right ear: its fellow is similar; but with the sprig reversed. This pair of ear‐rings is suited for a lady of wealth. —So also is the second, which resembles the former, except that it has a large pearl in the place of the diamond drop and wreath, and that the diamonds of the sprig are set in gold. No. 3 is a side view of the same. — The next consists of gold, and an emerald pierced through the middle, with a small diamond above the emerald. Emeralds are generally pierced in Egypt, and spoiled by this process as much as by not being cut with facets. —The last is of gold, with a small ruby in the centre. The ruby is set in fine filigree‐work, which is (p.524) surrounded by fifteen balls of gold. To the seven lower balls are suspended as many circular barḳ.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Ear‐rings —each, half the real size.

The necklace (“’eḳd”) is another description of ornament of which the Egyptians have a great variety; but almost all of them are similar in the following particulars. 1st. The beads &c. of which they are composed are, altogether, not more than ten inches in length; so that they would not entirely encircle the neck if tied quite tight, which is never done: the string extends about six or seven inches beyond each extremity of the series of beads; and when the necklace is tied in the usual manner, there is generally a space of three inches or more between these extremities; but the plaits of hair conceal these parts of the string. 2dly. There is generally, in the centre, one bead or other ornament (and sometimes there are three, or five, or seven,) differing in size, form, material, or colour, from the others. —The necklaces mostly worn by ladies are of diamonds or pearls. — In the preceding engraving, the first necklace is of diamonds set in gold.—The second consists of several strings of pearls, with a pierced flattish emerald in the centre. Most of the pearl necklaces are of this description. —The third is called “libbeh.” It is composed of hollow gold beads, with a bead of a different kind (sometimes of a precious stone, and sometimes of coral,) in the centre. This and the following are seldom worn by any but females of the middle and lower orders. —The fourth is called, from its peculiar form, “sha’eer” (which signifies “barley”). It is composed of hollow gold. I give a side view (A) and a back view (B) of one of the appendages of this necklace.—There is also a long kind of necklace, reaching to the girdle, and composed of diamonds or other precious stones, which is called “ḳiládeh.” Some women form a long necklace of this kind with Venetian sequins, or Turkish or Egyptian gold coins. (p.525)

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Necklaces —each, half the real size.

The finger‐rings (“khátims”) differ so little from those common among ourselves, except in the clumsiness of their workmanship, and the badness of the jewels, that I need not describe them. A finger‐ring without a stone is called “debleh,” or “dibleh.” (p.526)

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Bracelets —each, half the real size.

Bracelets (“asáwir”) are of diamonds or other precious stones set in gold, or of pearls, or of gold alone. The more common kinds are represented in an engraving here inserted.—No. 1 is a side view of a diamond bracelet, with a front view of a portion of the same.—No. 2 is the most fashionable kind of gold bracelet, which is formed of a simple twist. —No. 3 is a very common, but less fashionable kind of bracelet of twisted gold. —No. 4 is also of gold. —These bracelets of gold are pulled open a little to be put on the wrist. They are generally made of fine Venetian gold, which is very flexible.

The ornaments of the hair I shall next describe. —It has been mentioned that all the hair of the head, except a little over the forehead and temples, is arranged in plaits, or braids, which hang down the back. These plaits are generally from eleven to twenty‐five in number; but always of an uneven number: eleven is considered a scanty number: thirteen and fifteen are more common. Three times the number of black silk strings (three to each plait of hair, and each three united at the top), from sixteen to eighteen inches in length, are braided with the hair for about a quarter of their length; or they are attached to a lace or band of black silk which is bound round the head, and in this case hang entirely separate from the plaits of hair, which they almost conceal. These strings are called “ḳeyṭáns;” and together with certain ornaments of gold, &c., the more common of which are here represented, compose what is termed the “ṣafà.”3 Along each string, except from the upper extremity to about a quarter or (at most) a third of its length, are (p.527) generally attached nine or more of the little flat ornaments of gold called “barḳ.” These are commonly all of the same form, and about an inch, or a little more, apart; but those of each string are purposely placed so as not exactly to correspond with those of the others. The most usual forms of barḳ are Nos. 1 and 2 of the specimens given above. At the end of each string is a small gold tube, called “másoorah,” about three‐eighths of an inch long, or a kind of gold bead in the form of a cube with a portion cut off from each angle, called “ḥabbeh.” Beneath the másoorah or ḥabbeh is a little ring, to which is most commonly suspended a Turkish gold coin called “Rubạ Fenduḳlee,” equivalent to nearly 1s. 8d. of our money, and a little more than half an inch in diameter. Such is the most general description of ṣafà; but there are more genteel kinds, in which the ḥabbeh is usually preferred to the másooorah, and instead of the Rubạ Fenduḳlee is a flat ornament of gold, called, from its form, “kummetrè,” or “pear.” There are also other and more approved substitutes for the gold coin; the most usual of which is called “shiftisheh,” composed of open gold work, with a pearl in the centre. Some ladies substitute a little tassel of pearls for the gold coin; or suspend alternately pearls and emeralds to the bottom of the triple strings; and attach a pearl with each of the barḳ. The ṣafà thus composed with pearls is called “ṣafà loolee.” Coral beads are also sometimes attached in the same manner as the pearls. —From what has been said above, it appears that a moderate ṣafà of thirteen plaits will consist of 39 strings, 351 barḳ, 39 másoorahs or ḥabbehs, and 39 gold coins or other ornaments; and that a ṣafà of twenty‐five plaits, with twelve barḳ to each string, will contain no fewer than 900 barḳ, and seventy‐five of each of the other appendages. The ṣafà appears to me the prettiest, as well as the most singular, of all the ornaments worn by the ladies of Egypt. The glittering of the barḳ, &c., and their chinking together as the wearer walks, have a peculiarly lively effect.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

1, 2, 3, 4. Barḳ.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

5. Másoorah.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

6. Ḥabbeh.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

7. Shiftisheh.4

Each, half the real size.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Anklets—one‐fourth of the real size.

Anklets (“khulkhál”), of solid gold or silver, and of the form here sketched, are worn by some ladies; but are more uncommon than they formerly were. They are of course very heavy, and, knocking together as the wearer walks, make a ringing noise: hence it is said in a song, “The ringing of thine anklets has deprived me of my reason.” Isaiah alludes to this,5 or perhaps to the sound produced by another kind of anklet which will be mentioned hereafter. (p.529)

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Ḥegábs—one‐fourth of the real size.

The only description of ladies’ ornaments that I have yet to describe is the “ḥegáb,” or amulet. This is a writing of one or other of the kinds that I have described in the eleventh chapter, covered with waxed cloth, to preserve it from accidental pollution, or injury by moisture, and enclosed in a case of thin embossed gold, or silver, which is attached to a silk string, or a chain, and generally hung on the right side, above the girdle; the string or chain being passed over the left shoulder. Sometimes these cases bear Arabic inscriptions; such as “Má sháa‐lláh” (“What God willeth [cometh to pass]”) and “Yá ḳáḍi‐l‐ḥágát” (“O Decreer of the things that are needful!”). I insert an engraving of three ḥegábs of gold, attached to a string, to be worn together. The central one is a thin, flat case, containing a folded paper: it is about a third of an inch thick: the others are cylindrical cases, with hemispherical ends, and contain scrolls: each has a row of barḳ along the bottom. Ḥegábs such as these, or of a triangular form, are worn by many children, as well as women; and those of the latter form are often attached to a child's head dress.

The ornaments worn by females of the lower orders must now be described.

It is necessary, perhaps, to remind the reader that the head‐dress of these women, with the exception of some of the poor in the villages, generally consists of an ’aṣbeh, which has been described in page 50; and that some wear, instead of this, the ṭarboosh and faroodeeyeh. Sometimes, a string of Venetian sequins (which is called “sheddeh benád’ḳah”) is worn along the front of the ’aṣbeh or rabṭah. The ṭarboosh is also sometimes decorated with the gold ḳurṣ and the faroodeeyeh, with some other ornaments before described, as the gold ḳamarahs, sáḳiyeh, mishṭ, &c.

The “ḥalaḳ,” or ear‐rings, are of a great variety of forms. Some are of gold and precious stones; but the more common, of brass; and many of the latter have coloured beads attached to them. A few are of silver. (p.530)

The “khizám,” or nose‐ring, commonly called “khuzám,” is worn by a few of the women of the lower orders in Cairo, and by many of those in the country towns and villages both of Upper and Lower Egypt. It is most commonly made of brass; is from an inch to an inch and a half in diameter; and has usually three or more coloured glass beads, generally red and blue, attached to it. It is almost always passed through the right ala of the nose; and hangs partly before the mouth; so that the wearer is obliged to hold it up with one hand when she puts anything into her mouth. It is sometimes of gold. This ornament is as ancient as the time of the patriarch Abraham;6 and is mentioned by Isaiah7 and by Ezekiel.8 To those who are unaccustomed to the sight of it, the nose‐ring is certainly the reverse of an ornament.

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Nose‐rings —half the real size.

The “’eḳd,” or necklace, is generally of a style similar to those which I have already described. I have before mentioned that the libbeh and sha’eer are worn by some women of the lower orders; but their necklaces are most commonly composed of coloured glass beads: sometimes, of a single string; and sometimes, of several strings, with one or more larger beads in the centre: or they are made in the form of network. The Egyptian women, being excessively fond of ornaments, often wear two or three necklaces of the value of a penny each, or less. Some necklaces are composed of large beads of transparent amber.

Another ornament worn by many of them on the neck is a ring, called “ṭóḳ,” of silver or brass or pewter. Little girls, also, sometimes wear this ornament. Some of the smaller ṭóḳs are made of iron. (p.531)

Appendix A Female Ornaments

Ṭóḳ, or Neck‐ring —one‐fourth of the real size.

Finger‐rings of silver or of brass are almost universally worn. Brass rings, with pieces of coloured glass set in them, may be purchased in Cairo for scarcely more than a farthing each; and many women wear two, three, or more, of these.

The “asáwir,” or bracelets, are of various kinds. Some are of silver; and some of brass or copper; and of the same form as those of gold before described. Those of brass are the more common. There are also bracelets composed of large amber beads, and others of bone; and there is a very common kind, called “ghuweyshát,” of opaque, coloured glass, generally blue or green, but sometimes variegated with other colours. These, and the bone bracelets, are drawn over the hand.

Some of the women of the lower orders imitate their superiors in arranging their hair in several plaits, and plaiting, with each of these, the black silk strings which are worn by the ladies; but it is the general practice of the women of these classes to divide their hair into only two tresses behind, and to plait, with each of these tresses, three red silk strings, each of which has a tassel at the end, and reaches more than half way towards the ground; so that they are usually obliged to draw aside the tassels before they sit down. These appendages are called “’oḳooṣ.”

“Khulkhál,” or anklets, of solid silver, already described, are worn by the wives of some of the richer peasants, and of the Sheykhs of villages; and small khulkháls of iron are worn by many children. It was also a common custom among the Arabs, for girls or young women to wear a string of bells on their feet. I have seen many little girls in Cairo with small round bells attached to their anklets. Perhaps it is to the sound of ornaments of this kind, rather than that of the more common anklet, that Isaiah alludes in chapter 3. verse 16. (p.532)


(1) . See a figure in the engraving in page 378.

(2) . See the engraving in page 44.

(3) . See, again, the engraving in page 44 of this work.

(4) . Pronounced “shiftish’eh.”

(5) . ch. 2. v. 16.

(6) . See Genesis xxiv. 47, where, in our common version, “ear‐ring” is improperly put for “nose‐ring.”

(7) . ch. 2. v. 21.

(8) . ch. 15, v. 12. Here, again, a mistake is made in our common version, but corrected in the margin.