Tunisian Costuming

 I am wearing a dark scarlet "melia" with lighter red and buff colored woven stripes. This "melia" is from Tunisia and is made of 2 strips of  woven heavy cotton.  The warp threads  of this fabric have  not been  finished off so they create  a  fringe.

The belt I am wearing, is one I made from hand spun yarn.  I live in a rural area and have a neighbor who raises a breed of sheep  which come from North Africa.  I helped with shearing one year and was  given a  fleece, which I spun up and made into this belt.  I have been dancing in this belt since 1988. Theres nothing like real wool!

The silver jeweley I am wearing is not necessarily from Tunisia. The Fibulae are from Algeria and the stylized khamsa is Tuareg. The silver chain which connects one fibulae to the other is adorned with lots of little North African amulets.

The history of this costume dates back to around 100 B.C. and was adopted during the Roman occupation of Qartage or Carthage. Derivations of the Roman "Palla"  remain to this day the traditional dress of many North African women. In Tunisia the 'melia', meaning "full", is a piece of fabric about six yards long. It is wrapped around the body and secured and the shoulder or under the bust by decorative pins called "klhlal" or what we call "fibulae" (it is said that the leg bone is named after its resemblence to this straight pin).   This garment, whose history goes back to Roman times, is still commonly worn today.

The handspun yarn belt is called "hzem" and can be decorated with tiny metal discs or with contrasting colored yarn. Normally worn at the waist, this belt is worn for dancing at the widest part of the hips in order to be a focal point for the characteristic  swiveling hip movements.   Loose fitting pantaloons called "qalsoon" are worn under the "melia" .  A blouse or "qamisa"  is often worn under the "melia". An elaborately embroidered vest may also be worn over the blouse and under the 'melia'.

Hollow ankle bracelets encasing tiny beads  are often worn. The dancers footwork  may incorporate  steps which create an audible rattling of the ankle bracelets.

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