Category Archives: Cultural

Why Bedouin Jewellery Has Such an Important Cultural Value

One of the pleasures of Middle East living used to be shopping for old jewelry-especially old Bedouin jewelry, rich in intricate silverwork, coral, carnelian and pretty stones picked up from the hills and sands during the Bedouin’s movements.

Nowadays, the handmade jewellery that once graced the persons of desert nomads is disappearing. The Bedouins themselves are exchanging it for modern pieces jewellery. The jewellers in the cities are breaking the jewels and remodeling it for modern pieces. Artisans who once made the jewelry are retiring or changing the way they work. And most of what remains is already in private collections and museums.

According to experts, this trend is widespread. In Saudi Arabia silversmiths are melting down Bedouin jewelry and recasting the silver in new designs. In Karak, in Jordan, two Yemeni jewelers who set the styles in jewellery for several generations have retired. In Beirut a jeweler who could once verify the stamp of a particular craftsman or pick out a technique characteristic to him says that the old work doesn’t pay anymore.

Why? Because life and values are changing dramatically as the Bedouins settle down. The Bedouins are not at all reluctant to change the rigors of life in the desert for the comforts, and the opportunities of life in towns or villages. And wives are no less reluctant to exchange pieces engraved by hand in patterns as old as tribal tradition, for costume jewelry fresh from a factory stamping machine.

Most Bedouin designs probably go back to ancient southern Iraq, famous in Biblical times for gold and silver mined from the Kurdistan hills. Another influence was Rome. Funeral busts in Palmyra, Syria, from the first-century A.D. show similarities to what was worn in the days of Caesars and what is worn by Bedouins today.

After the Arab conquests of Persia, the Persian mastery of fine engravings, filigree and inlays influenced Arab designs even more. During Mogul and Tamurlane times, other features were copied, some still survive today in Afghanistan, and in the Jebal Druze area of Syria. This seems to be especially evident in the elaborate diadem headdresses sometimes worn today in Lebanon at weddings.

What has evolved is a wide variety of jewelry: silver pendants plaited into the hair; headbands with dangling beads, scarves with antique coins fixed to the edges; crowns with a disk encrusted with stones; swinging pendants; intricate chokers; bracelets and belts. (Because so much silver is required to make them, belts are very rare.

Many Bedouin designs are functional but most also have symbolic meaning. Indeed some collectors say every item of jewelry relates to some religious expression or ancient belief, there are many signs of animism-a prehistoric belief that all objects, men, plants and stones are inhabited by souls-still survive in the Middle Eastern jewelry. Occasionally there is a mixture of symbols on the same piece of jewelry. Common to all Bedouin jewelry are bells and dangling coins from Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman times. Other distinctive features are the Islamic half moon-said by some to be Turkish in origin, but by others to be typically Kurdish. Iraqi jewelry often has turquoise or pearls from Bahrain, a trading neighbor. The filigree is supposed to be Turkish in origin, but from Beirut to Sana┬┤a, it is not an uncommon feature. Many typical Bedouin pieces also have a “du’a” (prayer) that is cylindrical. (The prayers placed in the compartment are believed by some to ward off misfortune, sickness and death. So, it is thought, does the “hand of Fatima”.

The traders that regularly go to the refugee camps or the desert plains in the time of Bedouin seasonal migrations in search of bargains, the attraction of Bedouin jewelry is economic rather than aesthetic. To some collectors it is simply rejection of the stamped, mass-produced costume jewelry. To others in love with the history it is something more. It is the echo of a way of life. To them the disappearance of this jewelry also means the disappearance of a life they once symbolized.

Review of Transnational America – Contours of Modern US Culture

Transnational America: Contours of Modern US Culture is an editorial book including 13 essays by different individuals plus a completely illustrated one named photo essay in the work, edited by Russell Duncan and Clara Juncker. Museum Tusculanum Press has published it in 276 pages paperback with ISBN 8772899581 on 2004 in Copenhagen.

Contributors in this one volume editorial are experts in various disciplines mostly English Literature and American Studies.

The work categorized in 5 major categories: 1- Visions and Revisions 2- Secrets and Lies 3- Photo Essay 4- New People 5- New Places, which each one subcategorizes to a few essays.

This book has a pro-American structure, and tries to introduce America as a transpattern and even an Archetype which all other nations and states must follow from its nation-state pattern. Many countries are consciously or unconsciously go after it, and its taste and scent can be sensed in rest of the world. That’s why it’s called Transnational America.

In fact editors believe in an alliteration of Trans in everything related to America as it’s depicted in editors’ introduction:

“A transatlantic voyage can discover a new continent or start new lives, and a transcontinental exploration can give rise to Manifest Destiny. Pioneers can transverse frontiers to build a nation. To transmigrate is to travel through one country on the way to a more permanent resting place. Slaves are transported; immigrants make transitions; people are transformed. Transactions are necessary to property acquisition. Translators mediate among languages. Hopes are transmitted; communities are transplanted; nations are transfigured. Media producers transcribe programs for broadcast. Employees are transferred to regional for international offices.”

It can be said -In deed- the book tries to normalize the trans-Naturalization concept.

“The editors commissioned articles that explain the contours of the ‘glocal’ (global and local) and ‘intermestic’ (international and domestic) tendencies involved in transnational America.” The language of the work is not too complicated but to some extent sophisticated, editors intend to deliver their minds by coining new words using blending method which can be a sign and metaphor of interdisciplinary approach of the book per se.

“They address the complex issues of globalization, American mythology, Christian proselytizing, modern slavery, conspiracy theory, apocalyptic terrorism, Vietnam stories, international feminism, changing gender roles, resurgent regionalism, Hillary Clinton, Muhammad Ali, Latinos, and the changing definitions of place-be they in Hungary, Nigeria, Estonia, the American South or Canadian cities. As the word enters America, so America enters the world, unfettered by territorial boundaries, and experiencing ambivalent reactions of acceptance and resistance.”

It’s really hard to label it as unique, but undoubtedly it’s a great work for those who are new comers in Americaology and Globalizationology. Popular culture is smelled in the whole; examples, similes and metaphors to different Hollywood motion pictures give a subtle abstract interactive mood to work.

Nonetheless it has a unique part, and it’s the photo essay. 14 Dazzling photos which may represents 14 essays of the work. A well expert eye obviously can find a lot and even more in each; ‘Naturalization’, ‘Mc Donaldization’, American Surreallization, Presidential ExceptionalizationAmerican jigsawization, Phallicist Feminization, Negro-Islam Americanization, Economical Novelization, Mexico-America Hybridization, Amerinadaization, un-American assimilation; are probable conceptualized nominations which I dare to put on them, and of course all are coined by me save in quotation marks. I really recommend everyone who is interested in book and is in lack of time for whole reading even though skipping the rest live a quarter with this photo essay which has a encyclopedic essence.

As it is asserted in the book for American Understanding various notions and concepts must be taken into account; ‘nationalism’, ‘racism’, ‘manhood’, ‘Christianity’, ‘globalization’, ‘immigration’, ‘classic-democratic roots’, ‘militarism’, ‘technology’, ‘advertising banners’, ‘youth’, ‘future’, ‘progress’ and ‘frontier’ are issues which are reviewed in this work, so paves the way for American Understanding. But some other points are neglected in this work if so they are being concerned as modern US culture elements too; Hip Hop music, same sex marriage, new concept of Stew as successor of Melting Pot, Voluntarism, Democratization of the World and pre-emption. Nevertheless it enlightens new horizons in watching America as an insider even out of it.