Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Shemagh: the History and Uses

The Shemagh
The keffieh, or keffiyeh, is a traditional, elegant, comfortable, square-shaped, cotton or wool Arab headdress worn mostly by men, especially in the Levant--Northern Egypt, Palestine-Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and parts of Iraq-- and North Africa to protect against the sun or against dust.
Although the keffiyeh is woven in many styles and colors, one type in particular--checkered red and white or black and white--became ufairly and stereotypically identified in the 1970s with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) whose fedaiyeen militants and terrorists commonly wore it (as did their leader, Yasser Arafat). Some people wore the keffiyeh in solidarity with the PLO.
By the 1990s and later, the keffiyeh was as much fashion statement in the West as it was useful clothing in the Mideast. The keffieh, in brief, is as old as the sands of Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
The keffiyeh was so ubiquitous in the 19th century in lands colonized or coveted by the French or the British that colonists took to wearing it for its comforts and distinctive look, just as students in coldish France and England, who couldn’t care less about its political threads, these days wear it for its warmth and fashion. For British soldiers in the Middle East, who refer to the keffiyeh as shemaghs, the headdress became standard issue during World War II, and remains so for British soldiers who served in Iraq or for soldiers serving in Afghanistan. American soldiers in both places have taken to wearing the shemagh as well.
Shemagh Uses
• Dust Protection. Cover your face on motorcycles, trucks, and chicken buses.
• Sun Protection. Great for when you’re stranded in mid-day heat without shade.
• Towel. Small, lightweight, fast drying, but thick enough to get the job done.
• Ground Cloth. Keep your butt clean & dry when sitting on the ground.
• Warmth. Wrap it around your neck as a scarf to keep warm.
• Bag. Put stuff in middle, tie corners together. Instant hobo sack.
• Sarong. Wrap around your waist for modesty. Shorter than a normal one.
• Sweat Rag. Great for hiking, running, or other sweat-inducing activities.
• Arm Sling. Sprain a wrist or break an arm? Temporary immobilization.
• Emergency Bandage. Help stop bleeding & protect the wound.
• Pillow. Thick & soft enough to ball up & use for bus rides/camping trips.
• Weapon. Twist big rock up in the middle. Swing away. Instant self-defense tool!
• Concealment. Often used to hide my camera in questionable neighborhoods.
• Rope. Long enough to be rolled up to tie things together.
• Water Filter. Fold multiple times & filter debris out of water before boiling.
• Pot Holder. Take that boiling water you just filtered off the fire.
• Keeping Cool. Soak in cold water and wrap around your neck.
• Signal Flag. Large enough to wave and get someone’s attention.
• Blanket. Decent for covering your upper or lower body.
• Eye Mask. Sleep during the day or in a hostel when lights are on.
These are only a few of the Shemagh’s many applications.
This simple piece of cloth is so practical that Australian, British, Irish, Thai, and even US Special Forces all issue the Shemagh to their troops!
Generally these colors apply to different areas of the world.
Red= Iraqi
Green= Lebanese
Black= Afghanese/Egyptian
Brown= Saudi
White= Jordanian
OD and CB= American
I’ve liked the shemagh for years. But I also live the hot southwest. The shemagh is very useful in hot climates. I like the versatility of the scarf. There are those that connect terrorism to them and bring disdain on the historical and traditional significance. I hope we can look at the usefulness and versatility of the shemagh and see it for the great piece of survival gear that it is and has been for centuries.

Semper Paratus
Check 6