Tareq Rajab Museum



The Tantour or Shihabbiyeen

The tall silver head-dress of the Druze of Lebanon and others.

By Jehan S Rajab

 Druze Marriage Procession

The TSR museum has a number of ‘Tantour’ the silver or gilt patterned tall head-dresses on display in the museum. They are probably all nineteenth century and most likely from Lebanon, even though it is considered that the style (for married women) was practically out of fashion by the early twentieth century. All are engraved with floral patterns and a Tree of Life, one being perhaps a Cypress tree. One of the headdresses is about 1½ feet tall and has two long tassels hanging from silver rings a quarter of the way up. On one of the silver Tantour, besides a tree of life, is an engraved lion, similar to one above a door opening in to the Beiteddin Palace built in 1788 by Emir Bashir of the Shihab family. The Lion no doubt symbolizes strength. The silver head-dress with the obviously nineteenth century type tassels and cords attached is now very fragile, while the cap which would have kept the tantour firmly on the head has long disappeared.


TantourWhen did the tantour come into fashion amongst the Druze who were the people who chiefly wore the head-dress, and from where and why?  The Ottoman Turks also wore (men and women) tall hats at various periods, which came from their Central-Asian background. The Boghtaq is mentioned as early as the time of Ghengiz Khan and is spoken about by one of his generals Meng-hung who says,” The wives of the chiefs wear a cap they call a gu-gu, which is made from a wire about three feet tall and which is covered with purple velvet.” The Jewesses of Algeria were supposed to have worn a similar style. In Iran a number of tall hats were worn by men (as eventually in Moghul India) and this was most likely because the height of the person was increased and so gave an imposing appearance.

The Druze religion began in the first part of the eleventh century in Cairo. A folk belief amongst the Druze was that China was the location of paradise and that they would be reincarnated there. The Henin or tall hat of Europe might have first appeared in Europe from the Crusaders who brought it back with them from the Middle East. It is thought that Isabeau de Baviere (b.1371, d.1435) the wife of Charles VI of France, introduced the high headdress or Henin to the courts of France and then Britain. Unfortunately I can find no proof of this or even why she introduced it. There must have been some reason and in view of the similarities between the Henin, the Mongolian Boghtaq and the Tantour the stay of the Crusaders in Arab lands could have played a part.

 Martha Boyer ( Mongol Jewellery/Thames & Hudson-l995) considers the common denominator of these various tall head-dresses could be the Mongols who were ruled by the successors of Ghengiz Khan. The likeness between them and the Mongol ‘ Boghtag ‘ cannot be ignored. A description by Friar Willaim of Rubruck, who made a journey to the Court of the Great Khan Mongke from 1253/1255 makes extremely interesting reading. (The mission of Friar William of Rubruck/Hakluyt Society/London 1990) and in one place he comments that he “saw her taking off her head-dress’ –called a ‘bocca’ (Boghtag), which are normally never removed in the presence of men.”

An aristocratic Mongolian lady had converted to the Nestorian faith which is why Friar William saw the removal of her head-dress. The Mongolians seem to have been fond of tall and sometimes exotic head-dresses and a few of these made their way to the Chinese court during the Mongolian Yuan dynasty. This included one that had what looked like a tall hat with a ‘boot ‘ shape on top awarded to the women for their part in a successful battle, with the boot shape to remind them that women were subservient to men! There was as well as one very much shaped like the Tantour but made of bamboo sticks and covered with dark velvet. Friar William describes how the ‘boghtag’ was made of ‘treebark or some lighter material if it could be found, and then covered with expensive silk’. He considered the ladies out riding together and seen from a distance, resembled knights with helmets on their heads and raised lances.’ They rode astride like men, tying their gowns with blue-coloured silk cloth at the waist binding their breasts with another strip, and fastening a white piece of cloth below the eyes which hangs down to breast level.

In spite of a number of costume experts noting that the Henin came from the east and pointing out its similarities to the ‘Boghtaq’ there does not, at present seem to be much proof that it came from Mongolia, only much supposition. All that is known is that the style lasted for around one hundred years in France and Britain, gave rise to a number of related head-dress fashions and caused great ructions at the Courts on account of the expense. It was certainly one of the more bizarre and interesting fashions of European fashion history.


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