Letters from Mauritania: Mauritanians’ way of dress

Mauritanian Women

Fatimetou Cheikh, Student, Nouakchott

 Dear PCC Students,

Mauritania is located in far West Africa. Its society is grouped into classes, tribes, and ethnicities. Mauritanian customs influence how men and women dress. Our dress distinguishes us from the rest of the world.



Mauritanian Moors – the men – wear a traditional Arab dress known as Dera’a”. In the early centuries there was only one kind of Dera’a” which was white.  Nowadays there are various Dera’a” designs and colors. In marriage, the groom has to wear an expensive white Dera’a”. Even in places of work and daily life men often a Dera’a”. Mauritanians with Black African origins like Soninke and Wolof wear another kind of traditional African dress called a boubou. There are common threads among all the ethnic groups concerning our country’s dress code.

I cannot talk about women’s way of dressing without mentioning that Mauritania is an Islamic nation. Muslim women have to cover their bodies except their faces and hands. Our ancestors designed a veil called a melefa. It is a 7-yard-long piece of fabric wrapped around the body twice and around the head once. Long ago, a melafa was a black veil made from nelon. In recent decades, fashion has influenced the melafa. All kinds of veils with different names and colors are found, including expensive ones that cost 150 thousands ouguiya (500 US dollars) worn by wealthy people or worn at a wedding or festival. There are some veils of good quality that do not cost a lot of money. These ones are called “Gaz” and cost 1500 Ouguiya equivalent to 5 US dollars. “Gaz” are considered the most wearable because they are comfortable and acceptable in most social situations. Modern young women tend to wear jeans underneath their melafas.



Mauritanian brides have to wear a transparent black veil in her first three days of marriage. After that she has to change into a white one. The black veil is an expression of happiness. In our society, black is a lovely color. Women generally wear it to look beautiful and attractive as a bride.

For more you can visit these two links to find more about Mauritanian dress in daily life.

Here is one on how to wear a melafa.

Here is one that shows one type of traditional wedding with traditional music.


Fatimetou Cheikh



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  • Mohamed Salem

    Thank you, Fatimetou Cheikh. I didn’t know the prices of veils before. It is an excellent essay that covered most (if not all) the aspects of the subject.


  • http://pcc.edu/library Tony Greiner

    It is great to have these letters from Mauritania coming. There are Muslim women in Portland who wear something that looks like a melafa, but I don’t know where they are from. The video on the wedding has some curious things that are not explained (for example, it looks like someone is tipping the singer by quickly peeling off lots of currency in front of her.) Maybe someone can write about that for us sometime?


  • Houda Sabar

    great job Fatimetou. your essay truely represents Mauritanian clothing objectively. congratulations dear


  • Haja El Hacen

    First I like to thank PCC Bridge and Ms Morales for this project , I hope it will help building the friendship between PCC students and Mauritanians.
    Fatimetou thank you for the topic choice and the information about it.


  • Scarlett

    thank you for posting this article i really find this interesting