Keffiyeh textile art is also known as a yasmak, ghutrah, ḥattah, mashadah, or shemagh. The Keffiyeh is traditionally used as a headdress, typically worn by Arab men and made of a square cloth, usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head and held in place by a rope circlet called an igal. Used as protection against arid climates, its distinctive woven check pattern presumably originates from an ancient Mesopotamian representation of either fishing nets or ears of grain. Some wearers wrap the keffiyeh into a turban, while others wear it loosely draped around the back and shoulders. The plain white keffiyeh is most popular in the Persian Gulf countries. The red and white keffiyeh is worn throughout these regions, as well as in Somalia, but is most strongly associated with Jordan, where it is called a shemagh mhadab and includes decorative strings hanging from the sides. It is believed that the bigger these strings, the more value it has, and the higher a person’s social status. It has been worn by Bedouins throughout the centuries and was seen as a symbol of honor and tribal identification. The black and white keffiyeh is well known as a symbol of Palestinian heritage. Traditionally worn by Palestinian peasants, it became a symbol of Palestinian nationalism during the Arab Revolt of the 1930s and later became a trademark symbol of Yasser Arafat, the father figure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, who was rarely seen without a distinctively arranged black and white Keffiyeh. Jews indigenous to the Middle East have historically worn their own variations of the Keffiyeh and in pre-state Mandate Palestine, both Jews and Arabs dressed in Keffiyehs. Keffiyehs became popular in the West in the 1980s at the start of the First Intifada. Due to the textile’s controversial symbolism, its display as a fashion statement has remained polarizing, many times holding deep personal significance for each wearer.
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