|A velvet Amazigh kaftan from Morocco... I want it|
|Three men drinking coffee in Kairowan, Tunisia c. 1915|
There are two contrasting geographic features of North Africa: the Sahara Desert and the fertile coast. The Atlas Mountains, which run fairly close to the coast from Morocco to Tunisia form a barrier between a lush Mediterranean climate in the north and the arid desert to the south. Over the centuries it has proved an attractive area for various civilizations (and their invading armies) with its combination of fertile coasts (perfect for growing grapes, olives, and citrus) and bustling trade ports. This of course has not pleased the locals, who were of a relatively cosmopolitan stock: North Africans, Arabs, Muslims, Jews (as Maghrebi ports actually welcomed them because of their status as merchants), and local tribespeoples such as the Berbers . (Note: Berber is the French name for these people derived from the word 'barbarian', therefore in the article we will be using their preferred name- Amazigh.)
In the 19th century the Maghreb was managed by governors of the Ottoman Empire, who had held the area (except for Morocco, as we have painfully learned) since the 16th century. By the 1820s however, Ottoman authority has crumbled, from a mixture of inability to keep up with industrializing Europe and the constant headache of Barbary pirates, leaving the region open to (to quote author G.D. Falksen) "that most prolific of afflictions, the French." (Chers lecteurs français, c'est une farce historique, pas une insulte contre vous. Désolé.)
|But not without a fight: in the spirit of girl power Lalla Fatima N'Soumer, an Amazigh holywoman, sticks it to the French.|
Morocco, Tunisia, and many branches of the Amazigh retained a very Muslim structure to their clothing- adhering to the principal of 'awrah, or modesty. Women typically went veiled (note: that their heads were covered, the veiling of the face was a matter of personal, regional, or familial preference) for respectability and protection from the sun. Linen and cotton were preferred for most daily garments since they were lightweight and cheaper than silk or wool- which were used for more formal garments or outerwear. The burnous (or burnoose) was one of these common forms of outerwear: a long, voluminous, hooded cloak made in a variety of colors. Burnouses were also often decorated with rows of trim, embroidery, or tassels on the hoods.
|"A Game of Krouta" by Etienne Dinet, of two Ouled Nail girls- the one on the right is wearing a burnous.|
Typically women wore loose shirt-dresses made of lightweight fabric under everything (or in hot weather or while working with simply wear that, belted. These were often decorated with rows of smocking, beading or other embellishment down the front to the waist. Jewish women wore embellished jumper-like dresses that tied over their shoulders. Frimla were harness-like vests made of sturdy fabric that were worn for light breast support.
|A blue velvet frimla decorated with silver embroidery and thread-covered buttons.|
|A Max Tilke illustration of a Tunisian jacket, vest, and drawstring sirwal.|
The Amazigh people of the Maghreb are famous for their aesthetic traditions: from fine textiles with geometric motifs, to embroidery, to jewelry, to harquus (cosmetic tattooing). While predominately Muslim, there was also a preponderance of Jewish Amazighs, and all records I've encountered have them regarded with great tolerance despite their minority. Women were regarded in high esteem in Amazigh society as the cornerstone of the familial and village unit- they were the only ones allowed to weave or dye textiles and sometimes became holymen.
Amazigh men wore iconic garments that linked them to Islamic piety- hooded tunics called tajellabiyt (usually kept white to denote the man's piety), woolen cloaks, and wrapped turbans. Both genders wore jewelry, most prevalent of which was the fibula- a pair of brooches connected by chain that fastened cloaks across a person's chest, allowing better movement. Headwraps and veils were also unisex, as sand and sun are irritating no matter your gender...
|An Amazigh woman bedecked in jewelry and facial tattoos.|
Despite being forbidden by the laws of Islam, many men and women of the Maghreb had facial tattoos- as they had for thousands of years. Still, many people were squeamish about the idea, so painted tattoos called 'harquus' were popular. Dark, long eyebrows (sometimes extending to a unibrow) were considered attractive, as were tattoos on the neck. The chin, cheeks, and forehead were also commonly marked. Kohl (eyeliner) was also worn by both genders for protection from the sun and it's been proven that some of the compounds in the minerals used in Maghrebi makeup contained a substance harmful to strains of bacteria!
|A Tunisian woman with made-up eyebrows, cheeks, and lips|
- Ever hear of Barbary corsairs? These marauding pirates were infamous in the European and Muslim worlds alike- so in a steampunk setting wouldn't it be possible for there to be airship corsairs prowling the same territory (or beyond?). The clothing is fun, Islamic firearms are pieces of art, and it's something I've never seen done... oddly enough.
-The burnous is a garment still worn today and looks good layered over Maghrebi or Western clothing. Plus they're just so dramatic! Folkwear carries an excellent pattern.
-Turbans are simple to do, comfortable to wear, and can be made in a variety of colors (and accessorized with jewelry, stickpins, and veils)- but you've heard me gush about them before. (Did I mention when you wear a turban you don't have to do anything with your hair?
- Ward off the evil eye and look good doing it wearing kohl and harquus. Harquus can be recreated using temptu (a resin-based liquid that I recommended for kirituhi tattoos) or plain old liquid eyeliner (admittedly, when I'm broke... which is often... this is the route that I use. Just powder over it!)
-Takchitas are being revisted by fashion designers in Morocco and elsewhere abroad, take a look at these beautiful examples that would look great in a steampunk outfit.
-Algerian or Moroccan resistance fighters could make an interesting alternative to a wierd west gunner or bounty hunter. Think burnouses, hooded tunics, and jackets. (Note: zouave uniforms used by the french, and later the American Confederacy, were based off of Amazigh rebels.)
-Frimla are similar to the harnesses I see many steampunk girls running around in- just more colorful!
|An urban Algerian man wearing a jacket, sirwal, and fez with a burnous draped over his shoulder|
-The Paintings of Etienne Dinet- as I expressed in my previous post, I trust Dinet above most other Orientalist painters of the time because he spent years living in the Maghreb, particularly with the Ouled Nail tribe (who were allegedly very fond of him, they attended his funeral in droves) and even converted to Islam. His works are full of affection for this people, which is visible in his use of warm colors and the expressions of love and care on their faces.
-Desert Jewels is an exhibit of North African jewelry and photography presented by the National Museum of African Art. The jewelry in particular is breathtaking!
-An in-dept essay about Amazigh textiles and their connection with motherhood.
-As far as I'm concerned, THE source about harquus by the magnificent Catherine Cartwright-Jones, whose scholastic specialty is henna and other cosmetics.
-Again, here's that link with so many beautiful haute couture takchitas.
|An Ouled Nail woman with harquus and kohl.|
|A newlywed Jewish couple from Rabat, Morocco.|
|A bridal kaftan in the Turkish style from Fez, Morocco. Note the vibrant red dye.|
|An Algerian Jewish man.|
|An Amazigh fibula in the Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Another frimla, fastened in the front with brass buttons.|