TITLE: Bedouin Niqab
TYPE: face veil
GENERAL REGION: Middle East
SUBREGION: Siwa Oasis
DESCRIPTION: Berber Bedouin Woman’s Niqab (Veil Mask)
FUNCTION: celebration; social control
MAIN MATERIAL: cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: beads; silver coins; brass coins; silver plates; metal chains; stitching
In the western desert of Egypt, Berber women living in Bedouin societies sometimes wear masks or veils called niqab. The veils serve multiple functions, including protecting the women’s face from sun damage, filtering dust from the air, displaying adornment, and demonstrating wealth or status. The veil may also allow men to exercise social control over women’s bodies, maintaining their status as proprietary to fathers and husbands. Not all Bedouian societies use the niqab, but those that do generally begin the practice after the woman or girl has been married.
The niqab worn by Bedouin women on special occasions are sometimes elaborately decorated with coins and beads, like this one. Such masks are not for everyday use; they would be too hot and heavy. They are worn during special events, such as weddings and feasts. This one comes from the Berber people in the Siwa Oasis, in the western Egyptian desert.