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The Hayek, A Typical Algerian Heritage


  As in the Middle East women wear the hijab or the niqab (veil), the North African women wear the Hayek. The word "El Hayek "is borrowed from the Arabic verb "haka" which means "to weave". The Hayek is a women's clothing which consists of a rectangular fabric covering the whole body; six meters long by 2 meters wide, rolled up then held at the waist by a belt and then brought back on the shoulders to be fixed by a large golden or silver pins or fibulae. It is used to veil the Algerian woman from head to toe and it is always accompanied with a small triangle of embroidered lace that is nicknamed" L’Ajar" which partially masked the face. 

  El Hayek or El Haf, as called by the Amazigh people, is made from wool, pure silk or a mixture of both. It was firstly appeared at the end of the nineteenth century and was worn by urban women of Algiers and its suburbs succeeded, in a very short time, to spread across many parts of Algeria. Immaculate white is the dominant color of the Hayek while black Hayek made its appearance to mourn the Bey of Constantine then remains exclusive to the Eastern regions. As for the South, El Hayek is adopted in rather nuanced colors, which range from dark blue, to yellow or pistachio green. But far away from its material or its color, this garment that holds a large place in our society is considered a very important element in the pageantry of the Algerian woman and is characterized by a great nobility, modesty and purity. The woman, who is wearing it, stands out in art and thus sends a symbol of modesty and purity, and sometimes it forms an object of seduction because the more we hide, the more we leave fantasy and imagination in other’s mind. This type of veil is often associated with feminine beauty that’s why it has inspired many Chaabi poets and singers, who dedicated many of their works to them. 

  Beyond being an Algerian typical traditional dress and symbol of purity and modesty, it was an act of the Algerian national resistance against the French colonial policy. This mythical Hayek also accomplished missions for liberating Algeria. During the Algerian War, the Algerian women risked their lives by performing highly dangerous missions. The bombers camouflaged by this protective veil, ensured the transport of weapons in the neighborhoods of Algiers and in the other regions.

  There are several kinds of El Hayek across all the Algerian regions and it is worn in different ways depending on the region. The most famous and valuable one is called "Hayek Lemrema" in Algiers. It is woven of pure silk and striped with gold and silver threads. In the South of Algeria, we found "Mlahfa", in the kabyle regions there was "El Haf", "Hayek Laachachi" in Tlemcen (Algerian West), in addition to "Hayek El Kssa" which is yarned with fine wool. There was also the "Houiyek" which is made of silk, ftoule and guergueffe and that the bride was wearing it the eve of her wedding. Finally ,"The Mlaya" or the black Hayek that remains the traditional dress par excellence of the woman of Eastern Algeria (specifically Constantine)

  The Algerian women usually wear El Hayek outside home either daily (especially older women) or in different occasions like weddings, funerals or other circumstances. In the wedding parties in the past, the bride must be dressed in El Hayek before leaving the family home. Although it is almost rare nowadays to meet a woman dressed in El Hayek but it is still present on the displays of shops reserved for bridal trousseaux because some conservative families continue to demand the Hayek in the dowry of the bride, and even some grandmothers carefully preserve this traditional dress, hoping to offer it one day to their granddaughters on their wedding day. Today, though the Hayek still holds a large place in our society, just very few women wear it because it can no longer fulfill the social functions of our new contemporary era.

  Many cultural events has appeared since 2013 which seems to be an identity claim to make return to this traditional woman clothing to the Algerian society and a strong desire to promote this traditional dress as an integral part of the Algerian cultural heritage as well as to make it known to the younger and future generations. Two years ago, an original initiative was born: the election of Miss Hayek. 

Written by ARAB Sabrina 

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