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Kohl Containers

Kohl containers are made throughout the WANA region and are made of very different materials containing kohl, a black powdery substance, for the adornment of the eye. They are found shaped like flasks, pots, hollow beads or tubes. Kohl containers have an extremely long tradition, starting in the Bronze Age and developing until recent. Kohl is not only worn for beautification, but also for protection. Magically kohl diverts evil but physically it also preserves the health of the eye. The kohl container (often called makhallas) is both part of a woman's and man's attire and is even sometimes worn on the body as part of jewellery.


The shape of the makhallas varies throughout the region, but always consists of at least a container and (often) an applicator stick or 'needle' for applying the make-up. Under Arab (Bedouin) influences the containers are made of textile cushions decorated with beads, tassels and other evil diverting amulets, since the kohl itself must also be protected from harm. Containers under sedentary, more urban influences are often made of precious metals, stone or wood. In Egypt the makhallas consist of (three) tubes, of which only one is used and the others’ function is (possibly) to divert attention of the Evil Eye away from the true container. Tuareg and Berber kohl containers are often made of a tube decorated with 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 these pages you can find more information about the material culture of kohl. Should you like to learn more about these remarkable objects, please have a look at my book "Paint it, Black, biography of kohl containers." This biography of kohl containers is written to pay homage to these objects in all their diversity.

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