The mesmerising Kufiya pattern, with its intricate geometric design, carries profound cultural significance rooted in Palestinian heritage. Let's embark on a journey to unravel the historical and symbolic layers of this iconic pattern, exploring its deep-rooted meanings and connections to the Palestinian identity.
While the keffiyeh's status as an icon of Palestinian nationhood is undisputed, its origins lie further east, in what is now Iraq. The word itself means "relating to Kufa," a reference to the Iraqi city south of Baghdad that sits along the Euphrates river, but little else is known about the roots of the keffiyeh.
Initially worn by Palestinian farmers for practical reasons—to shield against the harsh sun and swirling sand—the Kufiya has grown into a potent symbol of strength and identity.
During the 1930s Arab Revolt, freedom fighters embraced the traditional Arabic scarf as the unmistakable uniform of Palestinian rebels, standing against the British Empire's occupation. The iconic black and white pattern of the Palestinian Kufiya was born during this period.
In the 1960s, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat popularised the garment among a global audience. According to Saca: "Abu Ammar [Arafat] would never be seen at any event without it."
His keffiyeh was always carefully positioned on his head, with the longer end of the fabric placed over his right shoulder – some say it was laid out to resemble a map of pre-1948 Palestine.
In times of conflict, the Kufiya transforms into a powerful symbol of resistance and identity, proudly worn by Palestinians. It signifies a steadfast commitment to their roots, a refusal to be silenced, and a determination to be remembered. Today, the Palestinian Kufiya serves as a universal emblem of shared values and empathy for the struggle of the Palestinian people.
It has been described by some as "a fishing net, a honeycomb, the joining of hands, or the marks of dirt and sweat wiped off a worker's brow". Others suggest the design represents ears of wheat, in reference to Jericho, one of the first known cities to cultivate the grain.
Palestinian performance artist Fargo Tbakhi adds "barbed wire" to the list, explaining the pattern could depict "that ever-present symbol of the occupation," although he relates most to the fishing net design, also called the fatha (opening).
"A fishnet is an image of collectivism, of entanglement and dependence: in a net, singular strands become something larger, stronger. As one strand, I am always yearning to be knotted together with others, so that we are better able to hold, to catch."
To some the fishnet symbolises the relationship of the Palestinian fisherman with the sea and to many sea means Freedom. Especially for those living in West Bank that have restricted movement.
Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa says that the patterns on the keffiyeh "speak to Palestinian lifeblood, in the same way that the patterns of tatreez [Palestinian embroidery] is a language unto itself, telling stories of location, lineage, occasion, and historic significance".
The black stitching is sometimes also referred to as a honeycomb design, in recognition of the region's beekeepers; some rural Syrians (where the cloth is also worn) say the pattern symbolises the joining of hands and the marks of dirt and sweat wiped off a worker's brow.
Olive leaves / Sea
Abulhawa agrees: "The 'bird-like' motifs along the border are interconnected olive leaves, referring to the significance of the olive tree in Palestinian life."
Olives, in all forms - olive oil, olive-oil products (such as soap), and olive wood - were hugely important aspects of Palestinian culinary, social and economic life, Abulhawa explains.
"Olive trees provided not just a means of sustenance and income, but the care of trees and harvest season provided for important social and national events in our society. Olives are present in our poetry, songs, tatreez, food, folklore, and familial lore.
Judeh Hirbawi from Hirbawi, the last factory in Palestine making these keffiyeh suggest that the pattern comes from sea waves linking this to the resilience of Palestinians through years of military occupation and oppression. (1)
Bold represents the trade routes going through Palestine which played a vital role in carving history and rich diverse culture in Palestinian communities.
For those in search of a genuine connection to Palestinian heritage, the Hirbawi factory stands as the sole remaining bastion in Palestine dedicated to preserving the rich tradition, authenticity, and integrity of the Kufiya. Each Kufiya headdress is handmade using a specific cross-stitching technique developed over decades. Only a handful of people still know these time-honoured techniques that are honed over many generations.
As the last stronghold, this factory tirelessly works to safeguard Palestinian heritage, ensuring that the essence of the Kufiya is upheld with unwavering commitment.
Supporting Palestinian livelihoods
We proudly offer a curated collection of authentic Hirbawi Palestinian Keffiyeh on our website. Each keffiyeh is a testament to the rich cultural history and meaning embedded in the Kufiya pattern. Buy yours now and show your solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
Sources: (1) Handmade Palestine. KUVRD. Middle East Eye