Tag Archive | Middle Eastern Culture

Sneak Peek

The exhibits team at the Institute of Texan Cultures has almost finished the installation of a exhibition called Foreign by Land, Native by Heart. The exhibit officially opens tomorrow and features the stories of four refugee families who have settled in San Antonio. Below are a few sneak peek images from the exhibit installation, come join us at the Winter Celebrations Around the World family day on December 11th to see this great new exhibit in person!

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Exhibit floor highlight


Sneak Peek

The Exhibits and Collections staff here at ITC is keeping busy installing Patriots & Peacemakers. This is a traveling exhibit from the Arab American National Museum. It tells stories of heroism and self-sacrifice that affirm the important role Arab Americans have played in our country throughout its history from the American Revolution to the present. The show officially opens on January 24th, but you can get a sneak peek of our progress installing it below.

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Object: Doll

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Jericho, Jordan
ca. 1960s
Materials: Cloth, wire, cardboard

This object is one of several dolls in the permanent collection at the Institute of Texan Cultures that were produced in the 1960s as part of a YWCA project based out of various Palestinian refugee camps. This program, which is ongoing, hopes to raise awareness of refugee rights and help female refugees support themselves and their families while living in the camps. Refugee camps are meant to provide temporary shelter for people who have had to leave their homes due to war, or violence. However, as these conflicts often take years or decades to resolve, many refugees are forced to spend large portions of their lives living in these temporary shelters.

This particular doll is labeled as having come from the Aqbat Jaber refugee camp near Jericho, Jordan. This refugee camp was established in 1948 as a result of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. This war, like many in the region, had deep historical roots. In 1516, as a result of the Ottoman–Mamluk War, the Ottoman Empire gained control over Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant. The Ottomans continued to control this region until the end of the first World War. The Ottoman Empire had sided with Germany during WWI and was divided into several separate nations after its surrender to the Allies. As part of this separation, the League of Nations granted France and Great Britain mandates over Syria, Lebanon, Mesopotamia (now Iraq), and Palestine (now Jordan & Israel). These mandates were created in order to help transition these areas from Ottoman rule into self government. Soon after receiving their mandate, the British government announced that they would further divide the area of Palestine into two separate states, called Palestine and Transjordan. The new Palestine was to be designated as a national home for the Jewish people, and Transjordan would become an semi-autonomous Arab state. After this decision was announced, Jewish Jordan_Palestinian_Refugees_1949_318px_c0321e5fd4immigrants from around the world began settling in the region. However, this territory was also home to an existing Arab population, which was uncomfortable with the increasing Jewish presence in the area. The two groups became increasingly at odds, leading to a number of protests and outbreaks of violence. After WWII the British announced they would be terminating their mandate of the area. The United Nations then drafted a new partition of Palestine, dividing the area into a new Jewish state (which would become Israel), an Arab controlled state, and an internationally controlled city of Jerusalem. However, as the mandate expired these new borders were still being contested in an ongoing civil war between the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of mandated Palestine. Immediately following the expiration of the mandate, the new Jewish state of Israel was attacked by Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq. By the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel had managed to extend its borders beyond those originally proposed by the United Nations. However, this would not be the end of fighting in the area. This conflict over territory and religion has continued to erupt into violence during the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six-Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), and others to this day. While many of the original refugees from 1948 have been able to leave the camps for their homes or new settlements away from the violence, these conflicts continue to force refugees to occupy camps like Aqbat Jaber decades after the fighting began.

388px-Femme_de_Ramallah_PalestineDolls like the one above provide excellent examples of traditional Palestinian dress and embroidery styles. Prior to 1948 Palestinian clothing styles were regional, with each area wearing a distinctive style of dress. This doll is wearing a garment that features the traditional Palestinian embroidered chest panel, called a qabbeh, girdle and veil. A handwritten inscription on the bottom of the stand, indicates that this doll may have been made to represent a woman from Ramallah. Traditionally, Palestinian women from the Ramalla area wore garments made of black, indigo or white linen (like the one on this doll) that were decorated with geometric and floral embroidered designs. [Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Banks, Lynne Reid. Torn Country: An Oral History of the Israeli War of Independence. New York: Watts, 1982.

Draper, Theodore. Israel and World Politics; Roots of the Third Arab-Israeli War. New York: Viking Press, 1968.

Gorkin, Michael, and Rafiqa Othman. Three Mothers, Three Daughters: Palestinian Women’s Stories. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Hamzeh, Muna, and Todd May. Operation Defensive Shield: Witnesses to Israeli War Crimes. London: Pluto Press, 2003.

Kawar, Widad, and Tania Tamari Nasir. Palestinian Embroidery: Traditional “Fallahi” Cross-Stitch. Munich: State Museum of Ethnography, 1992.

Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008.

Oren, Michael B. Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Palestinian Refugee Camps in Jordan: Jerash, Irbid, Zarqa, Marka Refugee Camp, Baqa’a, Souf Refugee Camp, Amman New Camp. Memphis, Tenn: Books LLC, 2010.

Rosenfeld, Maya. Confronting the Occupation: Work, Education, and Political Activism of Palestinian Families in a Refugee Camp. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2004.

Terbeck, Rica. Business Activities As a Sustainable Livelihoods Strategy: A Field Study in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Syria. Saarbrücken: VDM, Verlag Dr. Müller, 2008.

Weir, Shelagh, and Serene Shahid. Palestinian Embroidery: Cross-Stitch Patterns from the Traditional Costumes of the Village Women of Palestine. London: Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Publications, 1988.

Object: Rosary


Figure, Religious, Rosary
Materials: chain, gold

In the Roman Catholic Church, a prayer rosary is used to venerate and worship in services. Prayer rosaries are also used in the Christian Orthodox Church. This rosary is Lebanese, and was donated by a family member of Father Nicholas Nahas from St. Michaels Antiochian Orthodox Church in Beaumont, Texas. It was used for services by Father Nahas, an Orthodox priest.

Orthodox Christians believe that their denomination has faithfully followed traditional doctrines of original Christianity, compared to Catholicism or Protestant denominations. Orthodox Christian communities were usually located in Eastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean sea areas such as Russia and Greece. Many Orthodox ceremonies are spoken in Greek.

Video clip of Orthodox Christian Easter celebration:

A slideshow from Saint Michael Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church showing different images of the altars and symbols used:

The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches split due to cultural and theological differences. The organization of the Roman Catholic Church and that of the Orthodox Church differ, with the Roman Catholic Church electing a Pope, who is then followed by a series of bishops and cardinals. Instead, in the Orthodox Church an Ecumenical Council with representatives for each “sister church”, fellow churches and religious establishments of the same denomination, would have the decision making authority in the church. The center of the Catholic Church is in Rome, Italy, while for the Orthodox Church was headquartered out of the city of Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire, today known as Istanbul, Turkey. With this geographic distance, leadership between the two churches became fractured and lead to a split between these two branches of Christianity.

Hagia Sophia – Byzantine church in Istanbul, Turkey  Photo via ayasofyamuzesi.gov

Hagia Sophia – Byzantine church in Istanbul, Turkey
Photo via ayasofyamuzesi.gov

Orthodox Christianity came to Texas through Lebanese, Syrian, and Greek immigrants who arrived in Texas during the 19th century. Lebanese immigrants settled in Beaumont, Texas and established a cultural and religious community similar to their home in Lebanon. Until the late 19th century, Orthodox Christians worshiped in their own homes, as an official church was not established until the early 20th century. By 1920, the Orthodox community assimilated into American culture and language, translating the traditional Greek liturgy into English. Father Nicholas Nahas, who served as a priest during the mid-20th century, was one of the central figures in the translation of religious text to English.

The original St. Michael’s Antiochian Orthodox cathedral burned down in 1952, with a new church built in 1953 for the Orthodox community. This rosary was salvaged from the fire, and was used in future services at the newly constructed cathedral, until it was donated to the Institute of Texas Cultures. [Caitlin VanWie, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:

Hussey, J. M. 1986. The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Mofarrij, Riad. 2009. “Renewal in the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Lebanon”. Studies in World Christianity. 15 (3): 217-235.

Roudometof Victor. 2013. “The Glocalizations of Eastern Orthodox Christianity”. European Journal of Social Theory. 16 (2): 226-245.

Turonek, Jerzy, and Jerzyna Słomczynska. 2001. “Between Byzantium and Rome: On the Causes of Religious and Cultural Differentiation in Belarus”. International Journal of Sociology. 31 (3): 46-61.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. 1974. The Syrian and Lebanese Texans. [San Antonio]: University of Texas at San Antonio, Institute of Texan Cultures.

Holiday Food Traditions

Baklava is a Middle Eastern puff pastry made of phyllo (or filo) dough, chopped nuts and sweetener. This dessert tradition is thought to have started with the Assyrians in the eighth century BCE and then spread across the Mediterranean and into Asia. Ingredients change by area or, what is in season. In Greece, honey was added to the recipe making it sweeter than the more savory versions found in Turkey and Lebanon. Baklava was originally a dessert only for the rich, but today everyone can participate in this delicious culinary food tradition.

The following video shows how to make Lebanese style baklava, a traditional holiday food for the Lebanese community here in Texas.



1 16oz package of phyllo dough
1 pound (or roughly 4 cups) chopped nuts
1 cup of melted unsalted butter
1 cup of white sugar
1 tsp (or “a splash”) of rose water

Simple Syrup-

1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp (or “a splash”) of lemon juice
1 tsp (or “a splash”) of rose water

Object: Incense burner

I-0450c scan

Incense burner (thurible)
Date: Unknown
Materials: Brass

A thurible is a metal censer in which incense is burned during religious services. The thurible is suspended from chains and is gently swung by the priest or thurifer  in order to spread the fragrant smoke of the incense. A thurifer is an acolyte that carries the thurible. In many religious ceremonies all five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste & smell) must be used during worship. In Orthodox worship these senses are engaged by: looking at religious imagery throughout the church and at the altar, listening to the liturgy and songs, ingesting the Eucharist bread and wine, and smelling the incense. Additionally, the smoke from the thurible is believed to be a physical representation of the prayers of the church as they rise toward heaven. In the Christian tradition, a thurible is commonly used for Divine Liturgy, vespers and matins, although it may be used on a variety of other special occasions.

The following video shows how a thruifer uses a thruible during a Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass.

© Lisa Banfield / Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Photo via: Lisa Banfield / Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The thurible at the Institute of Texan Cultures belonged to Father Nahas of the Antiochian Patriarchate from the ancient church of Antioch. Father Nahas used this thurible to burn frankincense, a natural, aromatic resin from Boswellia trees. Frankincense was one of the gifts that were presented to Jesus by the magi at the time of his birth, making it a commonly used type of incense in many Christian churches.


Photo via: Rev. Nickolas Albert Nahas, Identifier 097-0115, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply

Father Nickolas Nahas was ordained in 1916, shortly before immigrating to the United States with his family. At that time the Russian Orthodox Church was the dominant division of the Orthodox Church in the country. The Russian Church was one of the first to reach the United States (through Alaska) and, as the most established, was responsible for the administration of all  Orthodox churches in the country. However, following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Russian church was unable to continue its oversight of the American orthodox communities. Without this centralized leadership, Orthodox churches in the United States sought leadership from their countries of origin. This has allowed a number of different ethnic versions of Orthodox Christianity to flourish in the United States to this day. Father Nahas, coming from Lebanon, became part of the Antiochian Orthodox church in America. The Church of Antioch is one of the five ancient Patriarchates of the Christian Church. The Church was established in 42 A.D. by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas.

In 1935, Father Nahas made the decision to become a traveling priest. Father Nahas served as a priest in a number of churches, including: St. George Eastern Orthodox Church in Kearney, Nebraska; St. George Orthodox Church in Houston, Texas; St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas; and St. Michael Church in Beaumont, Texas. In his role as priest, Father Nahas performed some of the first marriages between Lebanese immigrants and non-Lebanese people in the United States. The Church of Antioch currently has over 250 parishes in North America, 21 of which are in Texas. [Lauren Thompson & Amber Beck, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

“Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.” Antiochian.org Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2013.

Herrera, Matthew D. Holy Smoke: The Use of Incense in the Catholic Church. San Luis Obispo: Tixlini Scriptorium, 2011. Print.

“Interview with Father Daniel Daly and Col. Jack Nahas, 1997.” Interview by Cheri L. Wolfe. n.d.: n. pag. UTSA Digital Collections. Web. 1 Apr. 2013. <http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15125coll4/id/1287/rec/2>.

“Transcript of Interview with Jack N. Nahas.” Interview by Cheri L. Wolfe. n.d.: n. pag. UTSA Digital Collections. Web. 1 Apr. 2013. <http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15125coll4/id/1481/rec/3>.

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