In this mini series we explore the rich beauty customs of the Middle East. Here, we trace the history of the batoola in Oman.
A ‘batoola’ or ‘batula’ is a traditional face covering typically worn by Bedouin women from the Persian Gulf region, which includes Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia. “It’s a tradition that dates back to centuries ago,” said an Omani friend of mine, Faten, during a rapid Whatsapp exchange, (her grandmother has been wearing the batoola since she was 13 years old) “The older generation are the only ones who still wear it on a daily basis.” She goes on to say that “today, most young girls reserve the face mask for special occasions,” recalling her cousin who opted for a dazzling, crystalized rendition— which can be bought at jewelry stores in the mall— for her wedding ceremony.
Originally worn as protection from the harsh, desert climate to help keep hot sand and dust out of the nose and mouth, the batoola also serves as garment of modesty and is worn by young females (before marriage) as a sign of coming into age. Faten admits, “Once a girl gets engaged, she opts for a slightly thicker design so that it covers her mouth,” adding, “It’s not a tool to cover a woman from the male gaze, although it serves that function too.”
At first glance, its metallic, shiny texture appears to be metal, however closer inspection reveals otherwise. “You can’t really go to the mall and buy a batoola,” Faten mused, “my grandmother makes her own out of cloth or leather.” The batoola can be designed in an array of shapes and colors for different occasions. “Our masks would be made from colored silk, and embroidered with gold or silver threads and sequins. Many married women [then] would make theirs out of goat leather with silver embellishments.”
Also referred to as a burqa, the batoola mimics the features of a falcon’s beak. A strip of fabric covers the eyebrows, and runs down the center of the nose. The mouth is covered by the batoola as well. There are cuts for the eyes, chin and upper forehead. The mask is fastened with hooks. ”In Oman, there are different variations of the batoola,” Faten explained, breaking them down for me into the traditional Baluchi, Dhofari, and Muscat designs— “But these are quite rare to come across today and are usually found in museums.”