The History and Evolution of the Keffiyeh

As a symbol of solidarity, the iconic black and white Keffiyeh provides comfort and community for Palestinians and Arabs across the globe. But where did it come from? The Keffiyeh also known as, kufiya, ghutrah, shemagh, hatta or chafiyeh has thousands of years worth of historical significance.

Dating back to Sumerian priests of Mesopotamia in 3100 BCE, a version of the keffiyeh was worn to distinguish honour and rank in society. The actual word ‘keffiyeh’ has its origins in the ‘Kufa’ area of Iraq and means “from the city of Kufa''. Over the years it spread across the Middle East with each country proudly wearing a pattern and style distinct to their region. Prior to the 1930s however, the keffiyeh was worn by traveling Bedouin tribes and Palestinian farmers year-round as protection against the sun and sand storms 

Traditionally this squared scarf is seen in Red and Black. The red keffiyeh is native to many areas in the Southern Arabian Peninsula, and remains a popular cultural symbol in Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf regions. It serves both practical and symbolic purposes – and was historically worn by bedouins as it represents the colours of the red Arabian deserts and black. 


Palestinian Revolution

The traditional black and white keffiyeh gained popularity amongst Palestinian rebels and protestors during the British Mandate of Palestine and especially during the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt. It was wrapped around the face by the rebels to hide their identity to avoid arrest. This caused the British authorities to ban the keffiyeh. Banning yet another form of Palestinian identity did not take over well with its population, so as an act of resistance all Palestinians started wearing it to make it harder to identity the rebels from the general population.

The keffiyeh as a symbol of Palestinian solidarity was cemented in the 1960s. Former President of Palestine Yasser Arafat became an icon with his distinct style of wearing the scarf in every public appearance. His keffiyeh was always carefully positioned on his head, with the longer end of the fabric placed over his right shoulder – it was laid out to resemble a map of pre-1948 Palestine. In the 1970s, iconic photographs of Leila Khaled, member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), showed her wearing the keffiyeh in a headscarf style, marking the rise in popularity of the scarf among Palestinian women as a symbol of unity.

Echoing the solidarity of The Arab Revolt, the keffiyeh was worn as a sign of allegiance again during the First Intifada (1987) and Second Intifada (2000). Palestinian youth would wear the scarf around their neck, a shift largely influenced by the fact that a full face covering made for an easy target for Zionist soldiers.

Today the Keffiyeh continues to be worn to show solidarity with the Palestinian cause in the West and neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. The black and white chequered scarf has been adopted as the unofficial Palestinian flag. Sadly, there is only one keffiyeh factory still operating in Palestine – the Hirbawi factory in Hebron –  a stark difference to only 30 years ago where there were over 30. KUVRD family owns & operates The Golden Textile Factory, which established itself as the first operating keffiyeh factory in Jordan. With Palestinian origins, the Bulbul family proudly helped pioneer the keffiyeh industry as well as the beginning of a widespread movement of Palestinian solidarity outside of Palestine. 

Shop a wide range of keffiyehs made in our family own factory.


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