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The Materiality and Social Agency of the Malaḥfa (Mauritanian Veil)

  • Katherine Ann Wiley

Abstract:

This article examines the malaḥfa, a veil that has long been popular in Mauritania, using the scholarship of materiality to analyze how it and the wearer co-constitute each other. This approach demonstrates how the malaḥfa’s particular form and fabric provide women with certain constraints and possibilities; women activate these qualities to exercise agency, be it in redefining their positions in the social hierarchy, exercising control in their relationships, or asserting authority over others. Focusing on the malaḥfa’s materiality illustrates how such garments can be central to women’s agency and power, and demonstrates how women shape the broader social hierarchy.

Cet article examine le malaḥfa, un voile longtemps populaire en Mauritanie. À l’aide de la recherche sur la matérialité, j’analyse comment le voile et son porteur se façonnent l’un à l’autre. Cette approche montre comment la fabrique et la forme particulière du malaḥfa donne aux femmes contraintes et possibilités ; les femmes utilisent ces qualités pour exercer leur liberté d’action, que ce soit en redéfinissant leurs positions dans la hiérarchie sociale, exercer contrôle dans leurs relations, ou affirmer leurs autorités sur les autres. Mettant l’accent sur l’importance que le malaḥfa représente en tant qu’objet, cette analyse illustre comment ce vêtement peut être centrale à servir à l’action et le pouvoir des femmes et montre de ce fait comment les femmes peuvent façonner la hiérarchie sociale.

Este artigo analisa o malaḥfa, um véu que há muito se tornou popular na Mauritânia; recorrendo ao conceito académico de materialidade, procura-se compreender de que modo o véu e a sua portadora se constituem um ao outro. Este estudo demonstra que o formato e o tecido específicos do malaḥfa subordinam as mulheres a determinados constrangimentos, ao mesmo tempo que lhes abrem determinadas possibilidades; as mulheres ativam estes atributos para exercerem a sua agencialidade, seja redefinindo o seu posicionamento na hierarquia social, seja exercendo controlo sobre os seus relacionamentos ou impondo autoridade sobre os outros. Ao centrar-se sobre a materialidade do malaḥfa, a autora revela que este tipo de indumentária pode desempenhar um papel central para a agencialidade e o poder das mulheres e explica o modo como estas determinam a hierarquia social em geral.

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