In Saudi Arabia’s Asir province, male members of the Qahtan tribe are known as ‘Flower Men’ for their intricately-made floral headpieces.
The flower crowns of red and orange blooms are worn to enhance both beauty and health, as some are made from flora believed to ward off headaches or sinus problems.
Many Qahtani customs have survived contact with the world, including the colourful murals painted by women on the walls of their homes.
But the Flower Men offer an enigmatic attraction to the area.
“Their floral nickname comes from the fact that many Qahtani men traditionally crown their heads with intricate arrangements of herbs, flowers and grasses,” writes the BBC’s Molly Theodora Oringer.
In a recent piece, part of a BBC travel series named Our Unique World, Originer provides context: “According to the late researcher Thierry Mauger, the construction of these flower crowns is approached by the tribe’s younger men as a friendly beauty competition: they incorporate as many colourful additions, like marigold and jasmine, as possible.
She adds: “Men of middle age and above, conversely, take a more somber approach, constructing their wreaths with greenery like wild basil. Some wear them daily for aesthetic purposes, while others adorn themselves on special occasions like major Muslim holidays. Others still wear them when sick, choosing herbs and greenery specifically for their medicinal properties.
Asir’s mountainous beauty
With the natural, mountainous beauty of Asir becoming widely recognized as a tourism hotspot, the Flower Men today return to their ancestral villages to build their businesses around the tourist economy. They now sell these traditional crowns to visitors to the region.
And for Asir to further appeal to tourists, the Saudi government has installed a cable car to ensure easier access to remote, such as the settlement of Habala.
“The mountainous province of ‘Asir, meaning ‘difficult’ in Arabic, appealed to the Qahtan as it provided autonomy and protection from invasion,” writes Oringer.
“Its peaks, the highest in the country, host agricultural terraces carved into the mountainside by its inhabitants who subsist on small-scale farming of wheat, coffee and fruit,” she added.
In recent years, Asir has become a focal point within Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 – a nationwide development plan with a goal, among several others, to preserve Saudi heritage and culture.
Art organizations and universities have launched projects to begin the digital recording of traditional Asiri mural paintings, while encouraging the protection of architecture and the support of contemporary art.