‘Shabakah’ in the Bizerte region: A women's craft
Dr. Ismahan bin Barka
This study aims to investigate Shabakah, which is a traditional Tunisian craft practiced by women. This study is conducted within the context of anthropological studies and ethnographic works, which have been witnessing recent variation and growth. This study also aims to shed light on the craft as an artesian culture which managed to sustain itself in the face of socio-cultural and economic transformations Tunisia has seen.
‘Shabakah’ or ‘la dentelle à l'aiguille’ is a form of needle lace, in which threads are intertwined through use of needle to take the shape of a net (i.e. shabaka in Arabic). The craft is known as ‘Jammah’ in the city of Bizerte, and Shabakah in the Tunisian cities Rafaf and Ghar El Melh and in Algeria.
Because the craft is popular in the Mediterranean basin, it can also be considered to fall under the larger understanding of crochet and openwork lace. This is because all these crafts produce non-woven fabric that is interconnected by similar and different stitches to produce a final shape that can only be accomplished through careful and elaborate manual work.
Shabakah is, in its essence, a home-based activity with an artistic and aesthetic component that has taken on a commercial dimension. It has spread to workshops and training facilities and has become a source of revenue for a number of craftswomen, both at home and in workshops.
The commercial aspect played a role in the spread and development of this craft, especially as colonialism encouraged artistic crafts, albeit for colonial purposes.
This craft highlights the role women's skills play in the economic and social advancement of their country. However, perhaps the most significate role they play is preserving their traditional knowledge, skills, and ability to create art through the simplest of means." Despite numerous constraints, urban and rural women continue to be carriers of traditional knowledge and skills, conserving and passing on cultural, intangible, and material heritage and identities that have sadly weakened and been threatened with extinction". Through such, women have managed to pass on societal values and the rules and structures that govern daily life and special occasions onto other women. Thus, guaranteeing that women find their place in the society to which they belong and maintaining the traditional structures of their society.