Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


The Juhena tribe in the northwestern region of Saudi Arabia, the Hijaz, live in coastal towns and villages and in remote, jagged mountains inland, parallel to the Red Sea coast. The coastal area has absorbed diverse cultural influences because of its proximity to Africa and Egypt and its location on an ancient trade route, on which Muslim pilgrims travel to the holy cities of Makkah and Medina. Some members of the tribe, such as the Egyptian-born mayor of Umlaj, have their roots elsewhere and have been adopted by the Juhena.

Coastal inhabitants are settled, semi-nomadic and nomadic, and survive by herding, fishing and trading. Some engage in trades such as saddle-making and metal-working. In town, the government hires office workers, guards and drivers. There are schools, hospitals and utilities which support workers. In the surrounding desert, nomads roam but still send their children to school near town. Some women who demonstrated fiber art techniques for me lived part-time in town and the rest of the time in huts on the outskirts; they raised sheep, goats and chickens.

In contrast, the Juhena living in the mountains are relatively isolated semi-nomads, living in villages and settlements. Only recently in history have those living in the larger villages started using concrete houses, in addition to the traditional tents, though they use stone buildings for grain storage. Herding and agriculture are their means of support. They keep herds of camels and goats, and grow wheat and dates. Both women and men engage in agricultural work. In recent years some electricity has been brought in, and owing to motorized transportation, more goods and services have become available. The village of Shabaha is a hub for fifty other villages and settlements administered by a branch of the regional governorate. It has schools and a clinic with a doctor and a nurse on duty full-time. The road into the mountains is rocky and treacherous; travelers seldom venture there. The remoteness of the area has helped to preserve an ancient way of life, vestiges of which remain.