Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Keeping you informed about Palestinian cultural heritage research, and our work here at the Archive

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pageants, doves and "national" dress

Miss Israel 2007
Sharon Kenett in the national dress parade
 of the Miss Universe pageant in Mexico City
Picture: AFP  source

 A friend brought this photo to our attention, in a post on Azadeh's blog, who commented:
"I was watching the photographs taken at the Miss Universe national costume parade published in Herald Sun. I was surprised by the very peaceful costume of Israel. Although I have so many problems with what Israel does in Palestine, this picture is carved in my mind as another aspect of Israel"
Oh, indeed. Although we are probably coming from this, from a very different angle to Azadeh.

We must admit, we don't often get the chance to gain much enjoyment out of all things Israeli - our entire mandate here at the Archive is simply trying to prove to a world that has been told otherwise by Israelis, that Palestinian heritage exists - but one thing we do enjoy each year is watching Israeli pageant entrant organizers struggle to come up with another design for Miss World or Miss Universe' "national costume" section.

Poor Israel. They have so much else. But not a national costume.

Don't believe us?! Until Ayala Raz published on this subject in 1998 there wasn't much around, but Raz is well worth a read. Her article - on fashion in Eretz Israel - will send Palestinians cross eyed, as she promotes the accepted Israeli line ("at the end of the 19th century ... the land was largely deserted and neglected") but her discussion of what the Jewish population of Palestine and later Israel, wore, is fascinating and well researched. As part of this wider subject she then raises the question of "national costume: fact or fantasy?":
"Is there a need for a national costume in Eretz-Israel?" This question arose frequently in pre-state newspapers, both in the fashion pages and in letters to the editor. Citizens sent in their suggestions for an original costume, and these were published widely in the press. ...

"The first practical step towards consolidating a national costume was taken at the Levant Fair of 1936. During the fair there was a competition, with prizes, for an original design for a Hebrew costume, "that amalgamates eastern culture with western culture and symbolizes the renewal of the Jewish heritage in Eretz-Israel".
Which in a round about way, is how we at the Palestine Costume Archive, came to be involved. Because one of the "national costumes" Israel tried out during the 20th century was Palestinian. It seems the ultimate irony but Israeli cultural appropriation is like that - you deny the reality of a people but help yourself to various aspects of their heritage (language / cuisine / dance / music / costume) in your search for a cultural heritage of your own.

Julia Auster first put the idea into words in her 1926 article in the Israeli women's magazine Laisha:
"The time has come for the Hebrew woman in Eretz-Israel to devote some attention to the style of dress. We, women of the east and also women who have decided to make their home in the east, continue to this day to copy the west. We blindly follow the fashions that come from Europe, without reflecting that these styles are not right for us, not for the climate of this country nor for its unique atmosphere."
Raz noted that Auster "suggested that the national dress be a high-collared, long-sleeved tunic, decorated with embroidery around the collar. She adds that the same dress can be worn, without sleeves, for a house dress or a party dress". Well by the 1970s that's exactly what many Israelis were doing - either wearing original Palestinian long sleeved and embroidered dresses or examples of contemporary garments with cross stitch embroidery in familiar designs and placements. You can see an example below - probably a Maskit dress featuring pre1948 traditional Palestinian cross stitch, worn with a pre1948 embroidered and coined headdress -  from Ruth Dayan's book "Crafts of Israel", bless her!

We have some very interesting Maskit examples preserved in our collection here. We also have photographs of similar garments designed for El Al air hostesses. And even a photo of Miss Israel "wearing national dress" greeting an American mayor - and yep. Miss Israel is definitely wearing a pre 1948 Bethlehem outfit. As our director writes in her forthcoming book on post 1948 Palestinian heritage:
"for Israelis, wearing early 20th century costumes - which were clearly old textiles - as well as later outfits featuring embroidered panels cut from these rare garments - evoked a sense of place and past, and of continuity of culture. The question was, of course, who's culture".
"This practice slowed after Palestinians reclaimed embroidery as a symbol of national identity in the 1980s. Perhaps it became a little difficult to claim the embroidery as your own when it featured the flag of another country, which you yourself had banned".
By the 1990s even Raz had to conclude:
"it is a fact that to this day there is no national dress and it is doubtful if there ever will be. A national costume is not the fruits of one persons or many peoples deliberate invention. It is not enough for some fashion designer to come up with an idea. The national dress of a people evolves through many generations".
Exactly. And after all, Israel is a very new state. But alas, none of this is going to help Miss Israel in Miss Universe's "national dress" section....

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Birzeit Heritage Week

Dancing tragedies, dancing dreams

courtesy: El-Funoun website
"Can you dance your tragedies?
Can you dance your dreams?
If you are Palestinian, you almost
have no choice but to try doing both,"

We want to recommend two wonderful albums to you. They are not new, but this blog is, lol, and we've not had a chance to share our music tastes with you before!

They are 'Zaghareed: music from the Palestinian Holy Land' and "Zareef: folkloric tunes from Palestine" by El-Funoun, or more properly El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe, based on the West Bank.

El-Funoun in the beginning
courtesy: El-Funoun website

Here at the Archive we have enormous regard for El-Funoun ("the arts" in Arabic). They too travel the world, promoting the beauty of Palestinian cultural heritage. They face similar problems to the Archive. Worse, because they are still in Occupied Palestine and we are in exile. But our mandates are very similar. Janice Steinberg noted in her 2006 article about El-Funoun, in regard to the founding of the company:

“(Former Israeli Prime Minister) Golda Meir boasted that there was no such thing as the Palestinian people,” said Omar Barghouti (the company's trainer and choreographer). “We did not exist in the eyes of the colonizers.” Meir's 1969 statement, published in The Sunday Times of London and The Washington Post, was, “There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state?”

"Although Meir later said she'd been misquoted, the comment was seen as reflecting an attitude held by much of the world. And the handful of artists who founded El-Funoun set out to prove that they indeed had a national identity, giving even their most lighthearted dances a political purpose".
Sounds just like the Archive, doesn't it?! Where for the last twenty years Archive staff have researched lost Palestinian costume and related heritage traditions not only in the Palestinian region but in refugee camps and the scattered communities of the diaspora, El-Funoun (quoted from production notes):
"began with a mission to revive Palestinian music and dance folklore as a manifestation of national identity. Its early works were the result of extensive research in Palestinian villages, preserving centuries-old songs and dances, including the "dabke", a traditional dance form popular among Arabs of the Eastern Mediterranean, using traditional Arab instruments (oud, nai, and tabla)".
courtesy: El-Funoun website

One of the things we really admire, that El-Funoun achieved - to counter Israeli attempts to suppress Palestinian national identity - was the establishment of Palestinian Folklore Day, in 1986. But at times it wasn't easy, as Gia Kourlas reported in her dance review "Palestinian dreaming: resistance and joy" in the New York Times Magazine in 2005:
"In its beginnings, occupation authorities viewed El-Funoun negatively. "We were persecuted in many ways," Mr. Barghouti recalled. "There were travel bans, and some of our members were arrested and accused of belonging to a subversive dance company."

"In the 1980's and early 90's, he said, that view began to shift as the company's reputation grew. "The challenge became, What type of identity do we want?" he said. "We see our dance as a form of civil, cultural resistance to oppression, and that starts with the occupation, but not just that - we are also against social oppression, so in our dances you'll see a lot of issues dealing with women's liberation, equality and democracy."
With the loss of funding post 9/11 and the loss of one of our exhibitions in 2003, here at the Archive we have sometimes felt like giving up. But we 100% agree with Khaled Katamish (Director of El-Funoun) that "Palestinian cultural organizations ... must persevere against hugely unfavourable odds" and support and acknowledge El-Funoun's approach to artistic creativity and activism in via:
  • "unwavering commitment to the struggle against the illegal Israeli occupation"
  • presenting a "distinctive blend of authenticity with modernity, fostering cultural bridges between cherished tradition and contemporary ambition"
  • a "progressive social agenda, especially regarding democracy, women's emancipation and youth rights" and
  • "earnest opposition to agit-prop art as well as to artistic works that tend to portray the Palestinians as nothing more than pitiful victims waiting for a savior"
courtesy: El-Funoun website

There are about seventy members of the company, which includes dancers, musicians and administrators, all volunteers (like us!). There's also a youth group ("to counter the marginalization and alienation of Palestinian children and youth through music and dance expression") and members of the company teach in a variety of settings, including refugee camps. What we love is that they teach both tradition and innovation, which for any culture contains the seeds of a future. Omar Barghouti calls it "contemporary Palestinian dance ... inspired by our folk tradition, but not imprisoned in its limited realm".

We shall keep a detailed discussion of their performances for another post, because after all in this post we are supposed to be talking about their music (if you really can't wait, here's a secret - click here or here). But we'd like to share this review, because we know Palestinians out there will understand these words, by Ahmad Qatamish:
"It is an art that raids your soul in its depths, a patently Palestinian spirit, evoking the conscious as well as the spontaneous memories. It is smooth and intense; it impresses, without draining; it attracts, never repels; and, above all, El-Funoun’s art boosts the morale and expels despair, thereby emancipating the soul from the siege of time, and leaving an imprint of hope on it instead.

"How charming this persistence! How can a group made up of volunteers accomplish such a professional art? Perhaps the answer lies in the unique mix of charm and heroism: charm of contemporary innovation and heroism of rooted authenticity"
We hope someday someone will write about the Archive staff like that! Okay, so back to those CDs:

'Zaghareed: music from the Palestinian Holy Land' was recorded at the Popular Art Centre in Ramallah. The musicians include Najah Atiyeh, Safa Tamish, Nidaa Hajali, Ali Awad, Mohammed Yacoub (vocals), Muhsen Subhi (buzuq, oud, percussion), Thafer Al-Tawil (qanun), Abu Steif (mijwiz), Abu Ashraf (shabbabah), Raid Al Kobary (nay) and Mohammad Amin (bass, percussion).

The word zaghareed describes the ululations of joy heard in many parts of the Arab world. Here, these cries are intermingled with instruments (including oud, daf and ney) and voices (male and female soloists and choruses) that draw us irresistibly into the mystery of Palestine, and evoke a centuries-old spiritual landscape of longing, hope, and celebration. The titles of the tracks recall the traditions of the wedding: Tulbah (Proposition), Chiming Bracelets, Farewell To Bachelor Days, Groom's Bath, Henna, Zaffah (Wedding Scene), Adornment Of The Bride all leading to Initiation Of Ecstasy...

'Zaghareed' was a huge success, and is available around the world in major music stores as well as online. This really was a first for a Palestinian CD. Everyone was really hanging out for what El-Funoun might follow it up with ... and when it appeared, it didn't disappoint: "Zareef: folkloric tunes from Palestine", whose production was supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the Swiss Cooperation Office and the Palestinian Cultural Fund.

A "collection of some of the most poignant, revived, Arab/Palestinian folk tunes that have gained popularity in the 27 years since the dance troop began its interpretations of the tunes", the CD features evocative vocals by Sana Mousa, Safa Tamish, Najah Makhlouf, Muhammad Musa, Mansour Barghouti and Muhummad Yaqoub.

The re-arrangement of the folk tunes is by well known musician Tareq an-Nasser (except for one track composed by Suhail Khoury, who in 1989 also did the original music arrangements for several other tracks). He has done a superb job, and the result is a warm and vibrant CD which brilliantly brings alive some of our favorite Palestinian songs. This of course is part of the reason for the project - to revive Palestinian music, which El Funoun then put to great effect as the musical foundation of their youth group's new dance production Raqsit Shamis (Dance of the Sun).

We absolutely agree with the reviewer in This Week in Palestine:

"El-Funoun has always believed that its mission to communicate with other cultures and to affect social and cultural change at home through dance and music relies on a delicate balance between modernity and heritage, contemporariness and roots.

"In Zareef, El-Funoun succeeds in maintaining such a balance, presenting an often ignored aspect of Palestinian identity and adding another important achievement, a new benchmark, to its already luminous record of accomplishments in the realm of developing art as a form of civil resistance against political and social oppression ... Zareef serves a full course of authentic enjoyment to the senses, reasserting Palestine’s culture and inexorable humanity"
Let's hope it gets picked up by, who have been selling 'Zaghareed'. Reviews of the latter were extremely high. Amazon reviewer a music fan fan observes: "this album helps to preserve the culture and history of Palestine and the Palestinians, Christian and Muslim alike. .... May the world become more aware and educated regarding this kind of music and the music and folk dance of the region, and more importantly, the symbolism,emotion, and history that created it", while Yaser Abdelhamid noted:
"I have owned Zaghareed' ... for well over one year, and have allow[ed] its enchanted calls to enter my heart daily. As a Palestinian - American, I have found very little literature, video, and audio on the specific category of things Palestinian. It was like a breath of fresh air blew into my soul as I stumbled upon this excellent production and recording of traditional Palestinian folk music.

"This is the music of the people of Palestine. I have always hoped that someone somewhere would devote much time and energy towards preserving and capturing - on the record - the unique dress, dance, and music of the still traditional people who call themselves Palestinians. This wonderful CD has done just that, and has further satisfied the thirst of this spirit in reclaiming a bit of its Palestinian heritage. Good listening to all who care about preserving the sounds of tradition wherever they may still exist".
Sounds like Yaser might approve of what we do as well! There are not many of us, "preserving and capturing" Palestinian heritage, but we are increasing ... and one day inshallah El-Funoun may perform or play at an Archive exhibition opening...

You can buy 'Zaghareed: music from the Palestinian Holy Land' from, and "Zareef: folkloric tunes from Palestine" from El-Funoun and the Palestine Online Store.
"Cultural expression to us, then, serves dual purposes: self-therapy and expansion of the "free zone" in our collective mind,where progressive transformation can thrive. In response to all the attempts to circumscribe our aspirations, we must push on, dreaming and being creative,boundlessly. Thus we dance..."
(all photos: courtesy: El-Funoon website)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Encyclopedias, artworks and copyright...

"Gown of Patience"
Limited edition poster
28"H x18"

Today we joined Wikipedia. We wanted to edit the great new Palestinian costume article someone has posted - to add some more in the Reference section and especially the Collections of Palestinian costume section the original author had thoughtfully included.

We were a bit surprised at how much text had been taken from our website. That's not a problem, but the uncredited use of images from the website unfortunately WAS a problem that will need redressing. Because unfortunately one of the images was "Gown of Patience" by Suzanne Klotz and Yacoub Al-Kurd, which was most generously donated to the Archive by Ms Klotz a couple of years back. Copyright in such cases remains with the artist.

We can understand why the author / editor of the Palestinian page wished to use it. "Gown of Patience" is a large painted, beaded, and embroidered canvas inspired by the embroidered qabbeh (chest panel) of a traditional Palestinian dress. We all remember the day it arrived, in it's unexpectedly enormous roll, and how stunned we felt when it was finally unrolled....

Ms Klotz often features Palestinian themes in her art, and has arranged several exhibitions and art collaborations between Israeli and Palestinian artists. She's won lots of awards. We are seriously impressed - and jealous!

Suzanne Klotz writes:
"Art reflects the values of society and bridges the devide between the familiar and the unfamiliar. The creative process and product are invested with the power to elevate consciousness, encourage investigation of truth and assist in the advancement of a unified world society.

"I attempt to create art the engages the viewer on visual, emotional and intellectual levels and upon investigation, the content expands. The work addresses, in anironic way, contemporary attitudes towards gender roles, marriage, materialism, global, social and economic disparity, and the invisible lines that define borders"
You can see more of Ms Klotz's work on her website. Around the time of her donation, Ms Klutz mentioned that she'd like to organize a fund raising project for the Palestine Children's Welfare Fund. The PCWF do wonderful things, so our director was equally delighted. Ms Klotz produced a high quality poster of "Gown of Patience", and kindly sent some over to the Archive, so you can buy the poster here at the Archive as well as the PCWF. It's still $25US, which includes packing and shipping. All monies go to the PCWF.

We think it drives our director nuts sometimes that the poster reads "the original painting is in the permanent collection of the Palestine Costume Archive Museum". Nothing wrong with having "museum" in our title as well, is there?!

Click on the banner below if you'd like to visit the Palestine Children's Welfare Fund. They suggest lots of ways to help Palestinian children, such as buying embroideries from Hebron, or honey from Nablus ... you can even sponsor a Palestinian child.

Friday, July 13, 2007

SBS audio interview with Archive director Jeni Allenby

(Jeni presenting her paper in 2005)

Our director has presented papers at both "Transformations: culture and the environment in human development" conferences at the Australian National University. In 2005 her paper was titled "Traditional Cultural Heritage in the Australian Palestinian community: a case study in (multi) cultural isolation". At the most recent "Transformations" (27-29 Nov 2006), she presented paper based on another area of Archive research: "Religion is Not the Only Label they Wear": Cultural Responses to Wearing Hijab in Post 9/11 Australia".

Her abstract on the "Transformations" website reads:

"Life has become increasingly difficult for Muslim women in Western countries, who must face post 9/11 hostility to Islam as well as discrimination derived from the West's confusion of religion with cultural practices. 
"With Islamic dress codes constantly misunderstood, frustrated Western hijab wearers find themselves stressing that they are NOT in need of rescue, nor wearing "traditional costume" and that their right to wear hijab should be recognised and respected. The dangers inherent in this misunderstanding can be seen in increasing European / Asian government interventions banning hijab in schools, and closer to home, amongst other examples, in the 2002 call to ban hijab in Australian public places "because it could be used by terrorists to conceal weapons and explosives" (The Age 4 Dec 02).

"This paper explores how hijab wearers have responded to post 9/11 issues, with a particular focus on cultural / educational projects in Australia that encourage cross cultural discourse. These include the evocative Australians Against Racism 2004 billboard campaign "Religion is not the only label they wear", the Palestine Costume Archive's exhibition "Everything you wanted to know about hijab but were afraid to ask", Randa Abdel Fattah's young adults books set in the Arab Australian community, and Melbourne's "My dress, my image, my choice" fashion parade (which received a Living in Harmony grant for "bringing together Muslim and non Muslim women" and featured on ABC's Compass).

"These projects not only challenge Western negative stereotypes but provide a unique platform for the voices and experiences of contemporary Muslim women in Australia"
During the conference Jeni caught up with Peggy Giakoumelos from Australia's multicultural broadcaster SBS' program "World View" who asked her for a few words about the Archive and the state of Palestinian heritage, which was broadcast on 8 December 2006. SBS' website now contains that audio interview:
"When the media refers to life in the Palestinian territories, it's usually about conflicts occurring in the region. The culture of the Palestinian people is often ignored by the media. Jeni Allenby is the director of the Palestine Costume Archive, a museum that not only showcases traditional Palestinian dress, but costumes from across the Middle East. She spoke to Peggy Giakoumelos at the 2006 Transformations Conference in Canberra"

High Speed MP3

(if you have problems accessing this try via the SBS website)

"ANOTHER blog??!"

(Bethlehem + Ramallah dress, pre 1948)

Celebration time - our website is back, albeit a 2003 version!!

We will hear news about our email address tonight, but we may just have to live with the fact that mail sent to the old address will remain irretrievable. Which also means all the business cards and letter head items will need changing. Don't think about it! Think instead about....

"ANOTHER blog??!!" exclaimed our director, "but we just started THIS one!". "Well, yes, but it would be nice to keep our reference enquiries separate. It won't be an everyday one, just perhaps our favorite reference enquiry per week...

We think we only convinced her because she was so happy about the website! So with great fanfare we announce the the Archive's Reference Enquiry Blog. We'll place our favourite past reference questions there, and the questions we get asked regularly. We'd also love to hear from you!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

New email address

(source of photo unknown)

The website and email are still down. However we now have an emergency back up email: drop us a line at We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Secret splendours of the Archive

The detail above is from a Yemeni wedding dress in the Archive's traveling exhibition "Secret Splendours: women's costume in the Arab world". Let's see if we can find a nice installation photo of the exhibition as well, to finish our post.

The website is still offline and we are receiving no mail so today we are doing internal museum things. Like finishing up cleaning up, LOL, but also working on storing collection items from other areas of the Arab and Islamic world. We have quite a good collection, but unfortunately after we lost our funding after 9/11 and then one of our traveling exhibitions went missing during a tour of America, our museum's acquisition budget was reassigned to help cover these things. So we are lucky we still receive wonderful costumes and textiles as gifts.

Having such a wide collections means we can curate and tour exhibitions like "Secret Splendours: women's costume in the Arab world", which has a checklist of over 150 items. The exhibition includes both historic and contemporary costumes from North Africa, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and the Gulf, including Yemen and Oman. There is also a contemporary section on Islamic modesty dress, which was added after 9/11 when it became very important to educate Western audiences about hijab.

To further redress this issue the Archive is currently curating an exhibition just about the latter. It's a wonderful project to be working on, for several reasons. Firstly, it's essential to have a good educational tool available for people wanting information on this topic, and secondly the exhibition provides a platform for Muslim women to share their experiences of wearing hijab. Those of us who wear hijab really look forward to having a voice. So we guess we'd better get back to work!

Below is a photo of "Secret Splendours" installed at the Museum of Victoria in 2002. This is the Egyptian section of the exhibition - you can see traditional costumes from Siwa Oasis and the Sinai Desert.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Website down again

Just discovered the Archive's website is down again and that our main enquiry email address ( is no longer working.

As always when this happens we are working as fast as we can to fix things, and we apologise for any inconvenience. You can reach us via our director's private email: with any research / traveling exhibition enquiries.

People we'd like to invite to morning tea....

Child's Quilt (prototype design) 1991
Jordan River Designs
Palestine Costume Archive Collection

“Today, at a time when, too often, humanity
is clashing instead of communicating, we need to
promote [a] universal language and indivisible heritage”

Queen Rania

Much delight today when the latest issue of Vanity Fair being admired by staff at morning tea, proved to have Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan on the cover. Annie Leibovitz had taken the photo as part of a series commemorating activists working for Africa. Each of the twenty activists featured on the cover separately - our director had looked through all the copies in Borders to find one featuring the Queen!

Queen Rania was being praised for her work on the board of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization Fund and as Eminent Advocate for Children at UNICEF: "The world is failing millions of children, especially in Africa. Lack of access to vaccines means that the world loses over two million children every year. We can save them all. These statistics belong to the children of the developing world, the heartbreak belongs to their parents, but the responsibility belongs to us all."

Definitely. Here at the Archive we know the Queen best in her role of patron of Jordan River Foundation, which she established in 1995. The Foundation is a Jordanian NGO, working at the grassroots level to motivate low-income Jordanian families to participate in income-generating initiatives. Projects like Jordan River Designs, Wadi Al-Rayan and Bani Hamida not only assist women in creating additional sources of income to support their families, but help revive heritage crafts such as embroidery and and weaving. Bani Hamida for example currently involves 1,644 recently settled Bedouin women from 450 families, who produce traditionally made weavings and rugs, while many Palestinian women in refugee camps work for Jordan River Designs.

The photo above shows a quilt in the Archive's collection, embroidered with the Tree of Life motif by refugee Palestinian women employed by Jordan River Designs. Our director visited the project many times after Queen Noor established it in 1987 (before becoming part of Queen Rania's Foundation) and acquired this child's quilt in 1991. Originally she hoped to sell it, to raise funds for the Archive, but then decided it was so special that it should be preserved in the Archive's collection.

Archive staff love that Queen Rania shares a similar background to many Palestinian women in exile. Like many of our generation she knew the pain of a second exile when she lost her home in Kuwait after the Iraq invasion. We admire that she sincerely acknowledges the work of the International Red Cross / Red Crescent movement ("which has helped people recover from devastation and misery, rebuild their futures and carry on with their lives. And has spread compassion around the the midst of tragedy and suffering, over generations of war and peace" British Red Cross fund-raiser), is willing to take on culturally difficult causes (such as her Child Abuse Prevention Project) and shows a willingness to use her celebrity to bring attention to various charities. And somehow she handles all her royal duties AND manages her own small children. We are totally in awe!

So we'd like to invite Queen Rania to come join us for morning tea. Next time she's in the country, lol. We'll promise really nice tea and some great home made munchies. We'd like to talk with her about Palestinian and Jordanian wildflowers, and about the importance of heritage for a people without a country, and share with her some of the Archive's treasures. We'd really love to discuss her views on heritage, which are so central to the Archive's cultural educational mandate ("Queen Rania has said that in order for different cultures to understand each other, they must let one and other into their homes, and see things firsthand" JBTWire) and exchange ideas about traveling exhibitions, publications and other ways to communicate the extraordinary beauty of Palestinian and Jordanian heritage to the world. And then we'd like to talk families and children....

PS: We do stock some lovely embroidered items from Jordan River Designs and it's sister projects, if anyone is looking for some really special gifts!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Director Jeni's "Musakhan" - a diasporic adaptation (that tastes divine!)

The Nassar Family's "Mousakhan with Game Hens"
photo source: Chronicle / Craig Lee

Musakhan ( مسخّن in Arabic) (Palestinian chicken cooked in sumac and onions) recently featured in an American magazine article about a Palestinian Christian family, the Nassars, cooking for Easter. Traditional Musakhan is truly one of the best things you'll ever eat. It's beloved all over the Arab world because it tastes so good. Seriously!

What interested us about the recipe given in the article is that it provided an interesting example of diasporic adaptation. The Nassar family cooked the dish with game hens rather than chicken, and created individual "musakhan" serves (on small rounds of bread) rather than the traditional "wrapping" in bread. You can see the scrumptious looking results in the photo above.

We've seen - or eaten - other diasporic versions that incorporate spices like allspice and saffron. This family added paprika. Sumac by the way is a tart lemony flavored spice made from the ground dried berries of a bush that grows wild throughout the Middle East. Boneless chicken versions also exist. Some recipes grill the chicken rather than bake it. Some roast it with onions and then bake it wrapped in bread. The variations are endless but we reckon they probably all taste pretty good.

We thought we'd share the recipe for Musakhan that our director modified for cooking easily in the West. Our Palestinian great grandmothers would probably observe it with horror but we guarantee it tastes absolutely terrific, and provides an instant comfort food hit for any homesick Palestinian visitors. We are always begging her to make another one. It's incredibly simple to make.

Director Jeni's Musakhan

(for four people)

What you need:

  • 2 chicken breasts off the bone, roughly chopped into large pieces
  • olive oil
  • 4 large onions, sliced
  • 3 tablespoon ground sumac
  • 2 or 3 pitta breads for cooking, preferably the plumper soft ones made with a little yeast. Turkish pitta is good. Also another few pieces of bread to eat with the chicken
  • Medium size casserole with tight lid, which looks good enough to serve direct on the table
What you do:
  1. Fry onions in olive oil (and a little butter if you like the dish oily like Palestinians).
  2. When onions are just brown, add sumac, stirring for 2 minutes.
  3. Grease the bottom and sides of a casserole dish with oil. Place one round pitta bread at the bottom. It should be big enough for the bread to come up the sides of the dish. If they don't cut strips from a second piece of pitta. Basically you want the bottom and sides lined with bread.
  4. Place the uncooked chicken in the bottom of the casserole so that the bottom is evenly covered
  5. Place the cooked onions on top of the chicken. The chicken should be completely covered in a very thick layer of onions. Pour the sumac and oil from the bottom of the frypan over the onions. If you like it very oily the traditional Palestinian way, pour some more olive oil over the top.
  6. Cover the onions with the last pitta piece. You don't need a perfect seal but make sure it fits snuggly.
  7. Sprinkle a little water on top of the pitta, then cover with casserole lid (if no lid, make a cover from aluminium foil)
  8. Bake in a moderate heat oven (180°C) until cooked. You can check by lifting the lid and pitta bread top (be careful of escaping steam) and sticking a knife into the thickest chicken pieces. If the juice runs clear its cooked.
  9. While cooking the main dish, fry pine nuts in the spices left in the frypan, or roast in a little olive oil
  10. When main dish is cooked, lift the bread lid carefully and scatter pine nuts, then replace bread lid
  11. Serve in the casserole with the bread top, direct onto the table, with other favorite Palestinian / Arab dishes, or just a rice pilaf and the extra rounds of pitta
  12. When serving the dish up, make sure the serving spoon cuts down to the bread base, so that each spoonful contains chicken, onions and the yummy bread at the bottom full of cooking juices. If you prefer it traditionally oily then scoop up more of the sumac flavored oil at the bottom. Don't eat the bread lid, it will be far too dry!
  13. Enjoy!

Still cleaning up....

Druze bride (hand tinted postcard)
Palestine Costume Archive collection

We are still cleaning up, and sorting out things after the move. Today it was mainly the works on paper section of the collection: prints, maps, postcards, original photographs, posters, greeting cards. Lots of beautiful items. It's good to know ephemeral material like this, which reveals so much of Palestinian culture, has survived.

We lost over a month of emails. Very frustrating. Next Monday we will begin sorting through all the emails we've just been given and respond to as many reference enquiries as fast as we can. Quite often the reference enquiries are by Palestinians in the diaspora wanting to know where to purchase a traditional wedding dress, so a delay in getting back to them can be dreadful - we'd hate them not to have the right dress!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Friends of the Archive: Dr Jean in Gaza

While we have worked these last few weeks all our thoughts have been with our friends in Gaza, especially Dr Jean Calder of the Palestine Red Crescent Society (above, center, with her daughter Dalal on the right and our director on the left).

This photo was taken at Dr Fathi Arafat's apartment in Gaza City, last time our Director visited Gaza. We miss Dr Fathi too - he died in December 2004 - and always include him in our prayers.

Not another blog! The Archive starts blogging...

Welcome to the Palestine Costume Archive's informal staff blog!

We finally have the website back up, and we think email is secure as well, so it seemed a good time to start a new blog as well. Welcome to new readers and welcome back old ones!

This is where we write about what we do at the Archive on a day to day basis.If you have any questions you are most welcome to leave comments here, or contact us via