Jewelry and costume items are often stored in baskets or other containers. Apart from containers for storing jewelry or dresses, also containers for storing other materials of adornment may be found in the West Asian and North African (WANA) region. Containers are often ornamented and on occasions they are worn on the body or kept in the domain of women. A famous container closely associated with traditional costume is the Quteh, a square basket made of reeds and decorated with tassels used for storing embroidery silks and other raw materials used in decorating costume in Palestine (top image). Other containers are hollow gourds used to store fats for body and hair. Sometimes these items are decorated with leather cowries and beads to stimulate fertility or to divert evil. This type of containers and decoration dominates the African region. In Siwa (Egypt) different basketry containers are used to store a woman’s dowry and clothes (center image). These baskets are always elaborately decorated with tassels, red leather strips, cowries and mother of pearl buttons.
A type of container, which is our favorite is the Makhallas or kohl pot. These are made throughout the WANA region and are often made of textile or leather around a tubular vessel or rod containing kohl for the adornment of the eye. These items have an extremely long tradition. Kohl is not only worn for beautification but also for diverting evil and preserving the health of the eye. The makhallas is very much part of a woman’s attire and is even sometimes worn on the body. The shape of the makhallas varies throughout the region, but always consists of at least a container and a needle for applying the make-up. Under Arab (bedouin) influences the containers are made of textile decorated with beads, tassels and other evil diverting amulets, since the kohl itself must also be protected from harm. Containers under Turkish influence are made of precious metals. Often the Egyptian makhallas consists of (three) tubes, of which only one is used and the others’ function is to divert attention of the Evil Eye away from the true container. Tuareg and Berber kohl containers are often made of decorated leather. In Nubia we found a makhallas made of the hollowed pit of a Dom fruit. In this manner the kohl container is a complex object closely associated with adornment and protection and very much wearable heritage of the WANA region.
In the images below Pharaonic kohl containers can be seen, made of wood, a pomegranate, and glass.