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Woman's ceremonial garment (biskri)

 

Length: 392.000 cm
Width: 142.000 cm

Collected by Christopher Spring and Julie Hudson for the British Museum

AOA 1998.Af1.1

Africa, Oceania, Americas

    Woman's ceremonial garment (biskri)

    From Jerba Island, Tunisia
    Late 20th century AD

    Wedding ceremonies in North Africa are not simply celebrations of the wedding of two individuals and families, but also demonstrations of status, wealth, prestige, honour and fertility. The marriage ceremony is one of the most significant acts by which individuals change their social status. Marriage partners may be chosen with economic or personal status in mind; there may also be a wish to strengthen existing bonds between families. Marriage is seen as the ideal adult state in Muslim societies: single men and women are felt to be inadequate and are viewed with suspicion.

    Women are expected to adopt certain duties, restrictions and patterns of behaviour after marriage. These changes may be encapsulated in alterations in types of dress, or in individual items of clothing or personal adornment.

    Costume also plays a major role in the wedding ceremony. The ceremonial garment, biskri, is first worn as part of a woman's wedding dress. The names of the bands of pattern – beans, rice, heart, eyes, chair, figure of eight- reflect a concern for fertility and domestic harmony, as well as protection from the evil eye. Above the two weft bands are two groups of motifs woven in metal thread, depicting perfume bottles and combs (mishat).

    Older biskri incorporate the Star of David in their pattern bands because, it is said, most of the Jerban weavers producing such cloth were of Jewish ancestry. The name biskri is said to be derived from the town of Biskra in Algeria. It may suggest that the first weavers of biskri were immigrants to Jerba originally from Biskra, or that Jerban weavers simply imitated the design of a type of cloth, now defunct, woven in Biskra.

    This biskri was woven by Muhammad Tobji who, with his two eldest sons, are among about fifteen weavers still making biskri on Jerba Island.

    C.J. Spring and J. Hudson, North African textiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

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