Ouled Nail defense bracelets by Sarah Corbett
The Ouled Nail are a semi nomadic people living in the Saharan Atlas Mountains, They are believed to be Berber people who have been strongly influenced by Arab culture. They are mainly found in Djelfa, Biskra and M’sila provinces.
The women of the Ouled Nail (Nailiyat) historically have a distinct style of bellydance called Bou Saada, Most women of the Ouled Nail are trained in the art of music and dance from childhood.
In times of famine or of need some Nailiyat women would leave their homes and settle in nearby towns as dancers. These young women were likely to have been accompanied in the towns and cities by an older female relative who would act as a chaperone.
The communities of Nailiyat women who existed in the towns and cities engaged in dancing, hostessing and escorting. Their older relatives maintained the households for them. The young Nailiyat dancers accumulated as much wealth as they were able. This wealth was in the form of jewellery and textiles.
The jewels of the Ouled Nail are bold and plentiful. Many pieces of heavy silver jewellery are worn, coins , chains and ostrich feathers were prized, but for me one piece of adornment stands out as truly symbolic of the tough lives of the Nailiyat women. This jewel is the ‘Swar’ bracelet. A spiked cuff akin to a knuckleduster of the wrist! Often with varied delicate stamped, engraved, or cut work bases, and always with strong blunt protrusions.
These strong women who used sex and sexuality as a commodity, were often victim to abuses which other professions would not have presented, and what better way to carry a defensive weapon than as a piece of adornment. The uniquely styled cuffs of the Ouled Nail adorn, and can also if needed protect. As a symbolic representation of the life of a Nailiyat, I feel that strength, beauty and vulnerability are perfectly balanced and represented in this iconic piece of adornment.
Each year the women would return to their homes for a while, until eventually they had gained sufficient funds in the cities to allow them to finally return for good, they would buy land and houses and choose a husband. Their wealth and independence allowed them the liberty to do so.
These women who survived the risk of unruly clients, or even murder by those wishing to steal their silver and gold had won independence, and thus they returned liberated to their origins.