Woman's shawl (bakhnuq)

From Matmata, Tunisia
Late 20th century AD

The range of textiles produced throughout North Africa share many common identifying elements of design. These are used in a variety of combinations, and the resulting patterns have regional or local associations. Many of the motifs have identical forms, though they may be given different names according to where they are from, or what they are used for. In rural areas life is regulated by agricultural cycles, in harsh conditions of sun, rain, cold and heat. The names of patterns on textiles suggest physical comfort, protection and security.

Weavers in rural areas of Tunisia produce distinctive motifs with names such as 'comb', 'jewel', 'lantern', 'bean', 'amulet' and 'palm tree'. Tunisian women are renowned for their finely-decorated wool and cotton shawls and shoulder cloths. They vary subtly in pattern from village to village but are otherwise the same in technique and decoration. The motifs include indications of their rural background, with names such as ‘hen's foot' and ‘camel urine'.

To produce the head-shawl, bakhnuq, women weave a combination of white wool, black-tinted wool and white cotton, working from the back of the textile. Once completed they are dyed; the woven white cotton motifs resist the dye and the patterns are revealed. Traditionally, specific colours were worn at different stages in life: white for unmarried girls, red for young married women and blue or black for older women.

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Woman's shawl (bakhnuq)

View of whole shawl

  • Detail of shawl

    Detail of shawl


More information


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


Length: 218.000 cm
Width: 115.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1998.Af1.20

not found on MERLIN

Collected by Christopher Spring and Julie Hudson


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