On October 12 and 17 a new episode of Family Feud hosted by Steve Harvey will air featuring the Kasem family, a Palestinian American family from Florida who proudly chose to represent their Palestinian heritage on the show by wearing the traditional gown known as the Thobe.
In Arabic “Thobe” or “Thawb” loosely translates to garment but usually specifically refers to a sort of traditional clothing worn in various Arab countries. The Palestinian Thobe in particular is famous for its ornate appearance consisting of vibrant colors and intricate designs.
Each Thobe tells a story, usually of the city which it is from, and that can share a lot about the geography, agriculture, weather and culture of that specific region within Palestine. For example Thobes from the village of Bayt Dajan often feature orange floral patterns which are symbolic of the Mediterranean Cypress trees that surround that village. Thobes from the northern city of Nablus (famous in the Arab world for its desserts, namely Nabulsi Kunafa!) and its surrounding villages tend to resemble the traditional cloths of Syria as historically the two regions have had close cultural and economic ties through trade. In Bethlehem the thobes feature powerful red, brown and maroon coloration with distinct patterns all of which are derived from the ancient Bedouin and Canaanite cultures that initially inhabited region whom modern Palestinians descend from.
Even the discussion of Thobes with regards to a few cities is an oversimplification of the rich depth of their history, as specific patterns can be unique to neighborhoods within an already distinct town, and can even have elements unique to a family.
Today, the Thobe is not only a point of cultural pride for Palestinians and Palestinian diaspora – but it is also a symbol of resilience. Palestinian people are proud to hold on to their culture despite the hardship imposed on them by imperialism during the past and present, the Thobe is an artistic means of sharing their story and wearing their family’s history with pride.
As many of us tune in to Family Feud this week and appreciate the rich intricacies of the Kasem family’s thobes, let us also take a moment to appreciate the breadth and complexity it takes in the human experience to produce such art.