Skills Associated with Traditional craftsmanship




Kohl has been, and continues to be, a symbol of beauty, adornment, and healing.

Kohl has been, and continues to be, a symbol of beauty, adornment, and healing.


It's a prevalent custom among Arabs, not confined to women's embellishment alone; rather, it serves as a remedy for certain eye conditions. Consequently, both men and women engage in using kohl, whether for aesthetic purposes or seeking therapeutic benefits. The Bedouin community is particularly renowned for its extensive use of kohl compared to men from other backgrounds.


Arabic kohl has a historical presence in the Arabian Peninsula dating back to the pre-Islamic era. Sourced from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it undergoes several manufacturing stages before being employed as kohl. Gulf women, known for their resilience, prominently embrace Arabic kohl. The traditional method of kohl production persists within homes, with the craft being passed down from mothers and grandmothers to their daughters.


Among the various types of kohl:

- Synthetic oil-based kohl (saray):


This variety involves a black substance derived from the soot emitted by burning wicks. Sheikha "Umm Saif" narrates the process of preparing this type of kohl, explaining, "We bring a pipe or a metal bowl, put the gas in it, then dip a wick into it. We also place a glass bottle over the pipe, cover its opening with dates, and set fire to the wick, so the smoke rises to the top, leaving a black layer of falling ash (salafah) on the sides of the bottle. After that, we collect it and mix it with butter, and finally put it in the luqa (storage container)."


Umm Hamdan mentions another method for the collection of ash used in making kohl. It includes gathering the harmala plant, drying it, and burning it in a toubi or saj. Smoke, accumulating at the top due to the convex shape of the brick, is then collected, mixed with beef fat, and stored in a bottle for use.


- Natural mineral eyeliner (athmad):


This variety utilizes natural stones which undergo special processes, often referred to as athmad stone or Mecca kohl, known for its superior quality. Saliha Al Aswad describes the method of obtaining kohl in this manner, stating, "After acquiring the athamd stones, we place them on a bed of burning coal to rid the stones of any impurities through the intense heat. Then we place the stones in water mixed with henna leaves for two days, after which we grind the mixture and soften it by placing it in a special minhaz. No other ingredients are added to the mixture so as not to affect the quality of the kohl. Once the kohl is smooth and clean, it is stored in madharib, i.e., small bottles, and prepared for use by both men and women alike."


Umm Hamdan corroborates this method, emphasizing, "To make athmad, we take a small piece of stone and ferment it in water mixed with henna leaves. After a day of fermentation, we dry it, pound it in a petro minhaz, and place the powder in the makhala (kohl container)."


Benefits of Kohl:


From an aesthetic perspective, kohl imparts a more flattering appearance to the eyes. It not only aids in keeping dust and dirt at bay but also contributes to enhancing eyesight, promoting the growth of eyelashes, and eliminating germs.


Furthermore, kohl serves as a protective barrier against the intense glare of sunlight on the eyes and the reflection of light on the eyelids. By its shading effect, it effectively reduces the penetration of sunbeams into the eye, offering additional protection.


According to Umm Salem, athmad, a specific type of kohl, proves beneficial in treating the umbilical cord of a newborn. Applying a small amount facilitates drying and healing, allowing the cord to fall off painlessly in a short period. This traditional method continues to find use in some families today. In the preservation and application of kohl, various tools come into play. The makhala or kohl container, crafted from silver, glass, or copper, serves as the vessel for storing the kohl. The applicator, known as the mirwad, makhal or mikhal, is a stick typically made of wood, ivory, silver, or sometimes glass. Additionally, a sharpened minhaz (grinder) is employed for grinding athmad (antimony), and the luqa, a glass or ivory box, is utilized to store the powdered substance known as saray.


A tradition associated with applying kohl to children involves doing so before sunset. This practice is encapsulated in the popular saying: "During the day, kohl is utilized for adornment, and at night, it transforms into an asset." It signifies that kohl serves as both an adornment during the day and a purifying agent at night, cleansing the eyes from impurities accumulated during daytime activities.

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