This splendid full-length dress known as a thobe (also spelt thawb) is from the Bani Malik Tribe. Elaborate embroidery characterised the dress of the female members of the Tribe, and this example is especially elaborate and striking.
The cotton fabric thobe is densely embroidered front and back with bright yellow thread against a black background. The bodice panel (badanah) is entirely sewn with white, pale blue, red, yellow orange and dark blue beads known as khuruyan. Additional khuruyan beads are sewn to the dress and on the sleeves in bands to complement the embroidery.
The sleeves are in trapezoid form and the neck opening is rounded, and closes at the front with a metal zip fastener. A black satin panel in the front is matched by a larger one on the back. The embroidery has been worked through an inner cotton lining to ensure that the dress maintains its shape.
‘Bani Malik’ (or ‘Sons of Malik’) is one of the major Arab tribes on the Arabian Peninsula and claim to be the descendants of Malik al-Ashtar al-Nakh’ei who fought alongside Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. The tribe is from Sarawiyah, which is east of Al Lith and south of Taif, between the areas occupied by the Bal Harith Tribe and the Zahran Tribe. Traditionally, the area had buzzing markets where livestock, grain, honey and other goods were traded. This explains the exuberance of Bani Malik Tribe costume – trade meant wealth to afford the costly embellishments but trade also meant that the embellishments – the beads and the brightly-coloured thread – was available.
Other than expected but trivial losses to some stitching, the dress here is in excellent condition.
Alghalib, L.F., H. Alireza & R. Wilding (eds.), Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia: The Mansoojat Foundation Collection, ACC Art Books, 2021.
Suleman, F., Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The Fabric of Life, The British Museum, 2017.
Wearden, J., Decorative Textiles from Arab & Islamic Cultures: Selections from the Al Lulwa Collection, Paul Holberton Publishing, 2015.