The magic of oudh

One of the most iconic scents of the Middle East is oudh. It has strong religious connotations, blesses and cleanses.

Oudh [photo Camva/Getty Images]

One of the most precious substances with olfactory qualities is ‘ūd, also known as aloe wood or agarwood. This is won from the agar-tree (of the Aquilaria family), grown in India, Myanmar, Cambodia and on the island of Borneo. Only wood of infected trees has this wondrous capacity. When an agar-tree is infected by a specific bacterium, the tree will create a dark resin in the wood itself to isolate the infection. The wood encapsulated by the resin reveals the delicious scent when burned.

Burning oudh [photo: Canva/Getty images]

Incense burners with ‘ūd and musk were placed on the threshold of the Ka’ba at night, and when the structure itself needed renovations, the mortar was mixed with rose water.[i] Cleaning the Ka’ba was done with water from the ZamZam well, also mixed with rose water.[ii] Fragrance was also a beloved souvenir brought home by pilgrims: small bottles with jasmine perfume found their way into many homes, a practice that is now no longer current.

Oudh was used in scented paste beads in Tunisia and Algeria. These were worn by married women only and were regarded as an intimate jewel that would add to the attraction of the husband. On the Arab Peninsula, oudh was used to incense clothing until they were drenched in the scent, which they would keep for weeks and months. Oudh oil was one of the oils that played an important role in hospitality as well, to honour both guest and hostess. As a scent closely associated with religion, its scent is experienced as blessing and protection.

Oudh oil [Photo: Canva/Getty Images]

This post is based on my book 'Silver and Frankincense'


[i] Mols & Vrolijk 2016, p. 169 [ii] Vanoli 2019, p. 73

Materiality of Magic-series

In the Materiality of Magic-series, I will be sharing more on these capacities of jewellery and personal adornment. It is in these expressions that we learn about the people themselves: what they feared, hoped and wanted, what their life looked like. In this way, jewellery offers us a view from within, an intimate glimpse on the life of its wearer. To me, that is the true power of jewellery and personal adornment.

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