In addition to her husband, Robert, Fernea is survived by her daughters, Laura Ann and Laila; her son, David; and several grandchildren.
by Elizabeth Wernick Fernea is an account of her experiences in El Nahra in Iraq.
Elizabeth Fernea started learning about Middle Eastern culture when she accompanied her social anthropologist husband to Iraq and lived as the local women did.
Later she became director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, a scholar of women’s studies in the Middle East who delved into the subject as a newlywed in 1956 in Iraq and whose memoir about the experience, “Guests of the Sheik,” was the first of several of her works that examined the role of women in the region, has died. Fernea, who was a professor emeritus of comparative literature and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas, died Tuesday at a daughter’s home in La Cañada Flintridge after a long illness, her family said.
When she arrived in the remote Iraqi village then known as El Nahra, she was essentially there as the supportive spouse of Robert A.
Fernea, a social anthropologist doing doctoral fieldwork.
To accommodate his study, she lived as the local women did -- segregated from men and covering her head and body in public in a black robe known as an abayah.“No Western woman had ever lived in El Nahra before, and very few had ever been seen there,” Elizabeth Fernea wrote in “Guests of the Sheik,” “which meant I would be something of a curiosity.”Because the couple stayed in the home of a sheik, she spent most of her daily life with the women of their host’s harem, who struggled to accept her American ways.
But when she left two years later, she had won over the women and the village with her efforts to learn their language and culture.
Annes Mc Cann-Baker, a former editor at the university’s Middle Eastern center, said Fernea had a talent for recognizing promising authors who were unknown in the West.“She was obviously a really intelligent woman but she was also kind and funny, and she made the Middle Eastern center here at the university a home for many from abroad,” Mc Cann-Baker said.
Fernea went on to produce several documentaries about the Middle East.