The keffiyeh or shemagh is a traditional headdress of Middle Eastern countries which is made from a square cotton scarf. It is worn by Arab people, Iranic nomads especially the Kurdish people, and the Mizrahi Jews.
The word keffiyeh means from the city of Kufa which is an Iraqi town on the Euphrates River. Keffiyeh is also called as ‘hattah’, ‘mashadah’, ‘cemedani’, or ‘chafiye’.
Keffiyeh is worn in arid regions because it can protect the skin against sand, dust, and sunburn. It has a woven checkerboard pattern that makes its distinctive from other cloth. It is said that the pattern originated in an ancient Mesopotamian representation of grain or fishing nets.
In the 1970s to 1980s, the keffiyeh became a fashion accessory in America and other parts of the world. It also became popular in Asia when people wore it with camouflage clothes.
In this article, we will discuss when and where keffiyeh originated and what are its benefits. Furthermore, we will also tackle how to properly tie a keffiyeh.
History of Keffiyeh
The Keffiyeh has a long history. Before it became popular internationally, it was used by the Arab peasants and Bedouins for centuries to protect themselves from dust, sand, sunburn, plus the coldness of the winter.
In the early 20th century, the Bedouins and the peasants traveled across cities and countries, thus, more people found out about the keffiyeh.
Meanwhile, in 1936, the peasants and the Palestinian villagers had the Arab Revolt against Zionist and British colonial forces. The Palestinian used the keffiyeh as a symbol of resistance and to distinguish themselves from other people. Ultimately, the keffiyeh became a symbol of solidarity.
The keffiyeh became popular in the 1960s as Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian forces wore it to fight against the Israelis. With his strength and leadership, it had become a popular symbol of resistance.
Several political activities and hipsters used the keffiyeh in the 1970s to 1980s and ultimately, it became a trend in the West. In 2007, the keffiyeh went at its height and it became a fashion accessory. Until today, keffiyeh is used as an adornment and as a protection especially when traveling.
The keffiyehs worn by the Palestinians are now a mixture of wool and cotton to enable quick drying and keep the head of the wearers warm. It is folded in half like a triangle and worn across the forehead. Oftentimes, it is held in place by an ‘agal’ or a circle of rope. It is available in white, orange, and black colors.
Some people wear the shemagh into a turban while others wear it loosely draped on the back and shoulders. In the past, people wear the keffiyeh with the ‘taqiyah cap’ or wrapped around in the rim of a ‘fez cap‘.
The red and white keffiyeh is popular in Jordan and Saudi Arabia and it is known as ‘shemagh mhadab‘. Sometimes, it has tassels on its sides that indicates status symbol. It is made of cotton or flax. The bigger the tassel, the higher the status of the wearer occupies in the society.
Meanwhile, the keffiyeh in Yemen is available in a red-white-and a black-white pattern.
Benefits of using a Keffiyeh
There are many uses and benefits of using a keffiyeh; especially when traveling.
First, it can protect the wearers from dust, sand, and sun. You can use it to cover the face and the head, especially when traveling on motorcycles, horses, camels, etc. especially under the scorching heat of the sun.
Meanwhile, if you travel on cold nights especially on the desert, the keffiyeh can also give you warmth. Just wrap it around your head and neck, and you can survive the cold night.
Second, the keffiyeh can be used as a cloth to wipe the excessive sweat in your body. It is useful when hiking, running, or doing other extreme activities. It is small, fast-drying, and lightweight, thus, the sweat that it absorbs will dry fast as you travel. You can also use the keffiyeh as a ground cloth when you sit on the ground.
Third, the keffiyeh can be used as a pillow, blanket, and eye mask especially when sleeping. Sometimes, you sleep outdoors without luxurious sleeping accessories and indeed the keffiyeh can do the magic. It can’t give you a sound sleep, however, this cloth is better than nothing at all.
Fourth, it can be used as something else apart from body cover. It can be used as a hobo sack/ bag to hold few valuables, an arm sling when you accidentally break an arm, a bandage/ tourniquet when you are bleeding, a rope to hold few things, a weapon as self-defense by turning it in a flail with a rock or a sling, and a signal flag if you need to get someone’s attention especially in the wild.
Furthermore, it can be used as a baby hammock, a baby wrap, and a lot of things if you just use your imagination.
Different Ways to Wear a Shemagh
Cowboy/ Bandana/ Cool scarf method
If you wish to have a fashionable look when using a keffiyeh and have a good protection against the wind, then try this method.
The steps are the following:
- Fold the cloth and create a triangle out of it.
- Wrap the edge and fold it on your nose and mouth. Make sure that the lower half of your face is covered with the other half of the triangle.
- Take the right and left corners on the back of your neck, cover the shoulders, and cross the ends on top of the other without making a knot.
- Next, put the two ends of the cloth from the back of your neck to the front of your shoulders and tie it just right. Again, the knot shouldn’t be so tight that you find it difficult to breathe, but not too loose so that the keffiyeh doesn’t hold.
- Tuck the remaining portion of the cloth inside your jacket if you wish to prevent the dust getting inside your nose or mouth.
- On the other hand, if you wish to hide the remain portion of the cloth, you can tie them in another knot beneath the lower corner of the keffiyeh.
- If the wind has stopped, you can bring down the cover of your nose and mouth and put the keffiyeh on your neck. Adjust the cloth if necessary.
Tactical/ Military Method
This method is used for increased protection against debris for it offers more covering in the airways. It also offers protection on the head. The steps are the following:
- Open the shemagh in a full square, fold it into two until it becomes a triangle.
- Next, cover your forehead with the folded edge. Place the cloth in the middle of your forehead and make sure that the right portion is longer than the left one by almost half.
- Thereafter, place the left side of the cloth under your chin and hold it in place using your right hand.
- Take the right side of the keffiyeh, place it on your nose and mouth, and wrap it around your head until its end meets the end of the left side of the cloth.
- Tie the two ends of the cloth. Again, make sure that it’s not too loose that the keffiyeh falls and not too tight that you can’t breathe properly. Adjust the cloth if necessary.
The last and common method is to wear the shemagh in the traditional way. This is best to protect the face, mouth, and nose against dust, fire, or other elements in the environment. Here are the steps:
- First, fold the cloth in half, and make it a triangle.
- Next, cover your forehead with the folded edge. Place the cloth in the middle of your forehead and make sure that the ends are equal on both sides.
- Then, place the right side of the keffiyeh underneath your chin. Take its end on your left side and left shoulder. Hold it steady for a while using now your left hand.
- Now, place the left side of the keffiyeh over your face and pull it to the right using your right hand. Cover your mouth and nose.
- Knot the two ends of the keffiyeh behind your head just right. Make sure that it’s not too loose that the keffiyeh falls and not too tight that you can’t breathe properly. Adjust the keffiyeh when necessary.
Tips on how to buy a Shemagh
Now that we know how to tie a shemagh, it’s time to know what are the things to look out for in buying one. Buying one can be sometimes overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time.
Thus, these are some of the features that you should check out in choosing a shemagh in the market:
A light-colored shemagh is recommended if you plan to use it in a warm and sunny weather. If you plan to use it during cold and cloudy weather, then choose darker colors like black or red.
Be careful in using a shemagh in visiting Arab countries or if you wish to wear one to make a political statement.
Check if the product is comfortable in your skin and other body parts. You will be wrapping the keffiyeh around your neck, head, and face; thus it is important that it won’t cause an irritation on you.
Make sure not to buy a product because it only looks good, but it doesn’t feel good. Its comfort must be your top priority.
An item that can easily be damaged is a bad investment for a keffiyeh. Thus, make sure that the product you’re buying is durable.
Check the craftsmanship of the keffiyeh such as its seams. Sometimes, investing money on a good product, which is manufactured by a trusted company can save you from hassle soon. You can also confidently use the product no matter where you go.
In buying for a shemagh or keffiyeh, always choose the best material which is cotton.
A cotton shemagh is sturdy and it is lightweight. It is indeed helpful if you need an additional and urgent bag when traveling. It is resistant and it can work in many ways.
Cotton keffiyeh can dry immediately, especially when you use it as a towel to wipe your excessive sweat during summer days and moisture from rain or snow.
Lastly, a cotton keffiyeh can keep the temperature of your body constantly and protect you from heat or cold.
Keffiyeh comes in various kinds according to its weight. If you wish to use a keffiyeh as a blanket to protect your body against the cold weather, then a heavy product is best for you.
But if you plan to use a keffiyeh to protect yourself from the sun or just use one for fashion, then a lighter product is recommended for you.
The size is also an important feature to look out in buying a keffiyeh. Opt for a bigger product if you wish to use it often on camping, hiking, or other outdoor activities. However, if you plan to use it on fashion or other use, then a smaller size can go in handy.
In sum, a keffiyeh is a widely used product today. It embodies the beautiful culture of our Arabian brothers which has been honed through time.
This piece of cloth has been used as a symbol of unity and political ideology of many organizations in the world. Furthermore, it is a useful adornment to protect the face and other body parts from various weather conditions. It has helped survived people outdoors for many years, and truly, it will be used by many people in the next years to come.