With the Women of the Marshes

Portrait of a Marsh Arab woman from the Khazal area PM 53-26-60/15921.329
Group portrait of Marsh Arab women and children. PM 53-26-60/15921.299
Children playing at Sheikh Khaz‘al’s camp. PM 53-26-60/15921.305

Although the female members of the expedition, Lady E. S. Drower and Miss Winifred Smeaton, anticipated photographing and conducting physical measurements of the Marsh Arab women, only a handful of them granted permission. Instead, Smeaton collected data about the significance of tattooing among the marsh women (see Field 1954), while Drower collected linguistic data on the Marsh Arab dialect and recorded notes about their culture and customs.

I had the privilege of helping with the morning toilet of a Sheikh’s wife who, although she had seven children, was still in her twenties and had a skin of which any European woman might be proud.

No women are veiled, not even those in the sheikh’s household, unless they happen to go to a town, where they comply with town usages. When local townsmen or foreigners are present, women of the Sheikh’s family withdraw into some seclusion.

Boys . . . often have a thick silver ring (tōq) about their necks, decorated by a turquoise set into the clasp or into the center.

—Lady Dower (The Anthropology of Iraq, pp. 392, 395)