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Traditional headdress of an Algerian Jewish woman (sarmah)

Algiers, 19th century

Silver thread, 20 × 83.5 × 17 cm

Gift of the Oualid and Scali families


Coiffe traditionnelle de femme juive algérienne (sarmah), XIXe siècle,

Fils d’argent, 20 × 83,5 × 17 cm. Don des familles Oualid et Scali

The headdress was an important component of traditional Algerian costume. There were several types, the most usual being conical in form. In red or violet velvet and entirely covered with gold thread embroidery on card and sequins, it was attached with a string beneath the chin. A silk scarf was attached to the base. For some occasions it was adorned with head jewellery. There were two other types of headdresses: the beniqa and the sarmah.

The beniqa, made with a long rectangle of absorbent cotton or linen fabric, was a kind of two-piece hood with which one could cover and dry one’s hair after bathing. The ceremonial beniqa, in voile linen embroidered with silk thread and satin embroidered with gold thread and sequins, was used mainly for ritual bathing ceremonies before marriage.

The sarmah was an exceptionally worn and uncomfortable headdress that very soon went out of use. It was composed of two pieces with metal wire armatures: a hollow cone surrounding the forehead, and the second maintaining the hair. The sarmah was held in place by a scarf knotted around the head..

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