THE JOURNAL NEWS
White Plains library displays Arab clothing
By MERYL HYMAN HARRIS
(Original publication: November 16,
In colors as bold as desert blossoms, the
embroidered clothing of Arab women was a declaration of place and prosperity.
Yet as a child in the now Israeli city of Haifa, Hanan Munayyer never saw the
costumes of her Palestinian heritage — war and modernity had put the tradition
pretty much to rest.
It wasn't until she moved to the United States that
she and her husband, Farah, both scientists in the pharmaceutical industry now
living in New Jersey, began collecting, displaying and explaining the
traditional textiles. In this way, they could tell the story of Arab family life
and somehow dispel what she called the "horrible image of Palestinians,
that we are all terrorists."
Then, she said, "we found the Arab
population here hadn't seen it either."
Munayyer brought costumes, and her message, to the
White Plains Public Library yesterday as part of a series in conjunction with an
exhibition called "Salaam: An Arab American Portrait," by documentary
photographer Andrew Courtney of Croton-on-Hudson.
The traditional costume of Bethlehem, for example,
was represented by a square-cut cinched dress from about 1920, made of silk and
linen embroidered in rich reds with gold threads and cords, elaborate chest and
side panels, and heavy, wide sleeves.
Munayyer explained to an audience of about
30 people that each part of every Arab country had a traditional costume
composed generally of linen, woven by men in the locality and delicately and
lavishly embroidered by potential brides and the women in their families. The long-sleeved dresses were most often worn with a
jacket. Married women wore a headpiece on which were sewn beads, coral and coins
given to the bride as part of her dowry, with a yards-long, elaborately
decorated scarf to go over it all.
With a life expectancy of perhaps 45 years,
girls married as young as 13 and for safekeeping and status wore their dowry
money and jewelry throughout the day. Some headdresses were so heavy that
removing them caused headaches, so some women slept with them on at night,
Each married woman owned several dresses, all alike,
and wore them even while working and cooking.
Lush and expensive, the dresses
were part of a family's fortune for villagers and Bedouins throughout the
countryside, but were not generally part of sophisticated city life.
was the bride's and was passed on to her daughters, as were the dresses or
important pieces of the dresses that could then be sewn into new ones. If any
part of the dowry was spent, it would be a shame upon the man of the house who
would then be seen as unable to provide.
Through war and trade, the ancient embroidered
symbols — including the palm tree, the acanthus plant and cup — found their
way across Europe, as did the traditional headpiece, which was copied and
elongated by courtiers in the Middle Ages.
Eulex Fletchman said she thought the
presentation "was just great, so educational." She was visiting as
part of a class on library science from Queens College.
Candy Rae Villaroya said she thought the costumes
were "really beautiful," and found the lecture a different way to
spend the day.
Ultimately, the Munayyers hope to establish a permanent museum
collection on the East Coast. For more information about the collection, visit