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Jewish Head Covering

A jewish woman praying

Head covering in Judaism is common for women, but only once they are married. There is a ceremony called the Sotah ritual that was described in the Torah to test for fidelity or adultery in married Jewish women. Numbers 5:18 which is in both the Christian Bible, as well as being part of the Torah, specifies (NIV): “After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse.” The Jewish Talmud (Berakhot 24) claims that the hair is of “erotic nature”, in reference to the Torah/Biblical verse from Song of Songs 4:1: “Your hair is like a flock of goats, trailing down from Mount Gilead.”

Technically speaking, a woman who appears in public with her hair loose and uncovered, or who speaks to a man other than her husband (or, one should presume, relative such as father/brother) is giving her husband grounds for divorce within the Jewish faith. Obviously, as with many other cultures and religions, there are more women who are questioning this, more women who are not covering their heads, because of the idea of it being “submissive”, however at the same time, there is a definite trend of some women to go back to this aspect of their faith as head covering has been made somewhat more popular in today’s era due to realizing how many faiths do incorporate it somehow.

Jewish women who cover their heads do so in one of several ways. First, there is the Sheitel. This is a wig. The idea basically being that it is not the woman’s own hair which is showing. Traditional sheitels would be made with heavy bangs to obscure the natural hairline. Second, some women wear a hat or a Snood. Various types of hat may or may not be acceptable to a woman depending on how orthodox she is. A snood generally speaking would be similar to a hair net used in cooking, but thicker, more like a knit cap that covers properly. Beanies, tuques…if it covers all the hair, some women would prefer this style. Lastly, a scarf tied on in many various intricate ways, is called a Tichel. Intricate means intricate! There are women who make their head covering out of 3-4 scarves of different colour, who braid 3 together, or twist 2 together. It is as flashy sometimes as an African Gele (see: https://gosikh.com/african-gele/ ), but in an entirely different way!

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What to do with an old turban

After a while of wearing and washing a turban, it starts to get older and older. Soaps and friction break down the threads, the hair is oily which means it does need washing. Sometimes people wonder what to do with an older turban.

There are people who choose to burn a turban once it gets too old for it to be very servceable. However, in the interest of preserving the environment, that might not be the best way to “dispose” of one, releasing smoke into the air, especially if the turban maybe came from a place where dyes are not as environmentally friendly as some of GoSikh’s dyes.

While it is to be noted that many Sikhs think that it is important to treat the royal turban with utmost respect, it seems questionable that certain ways of using the cloth (which honestly could be purchased for any other purpose than a turban too, when originally bought!) might be “better” than others. Our bodies, in general, need cloth to cover them. We were born nude, it is our most natural state of being, and yet climate is the very first barrier to remaining nude…before societal norms even evolved to where they are now. In many places it is too cold to be nude, and in other places it is too hot and most people would burn without some clothing over their shoulders. If all body parts require clothing, and the cloth forcibly comes from essentially the same sources (be they cotton, bamboo, hemp…), is one type of cloth more “special” than another only because its original purpose was to cover the head? This is a serious question worth asking of one’s self!

Once a turban becomes very old, has holes and tatters, there are many things people can opt to do with it before maybe ending its life in an inferno. In other words, why can it not be reincarnated somehow, for at least a second or third life perhaps? Some people take the better parts of the cloth, that aren’t yet full of holes or fraying too badly, and turn them into patkas. Some could cut into strips, and make into handbags. In actual fact, it seems that if a turban is frayed or has holes only in SOME parts of it, perhaps turning it into any number of smaller (shorter/narrower) turbans for younger heads could be of benefit to young people.

To be honest, there are also a number of people who do work that tends to get dirty. Car mechanics, for example, would probably not put on their best newest turban for a dirty day in the mechanic’s shop, and yet, no practicing Sikh would generally advise them to “just go without”, as the turban is to protect the hair from outside dirt and grime! In that vein, perhaps they will be using an older, more frayed, dirtier turban for their mechanics, or a farmer in a dusty dirty field would be doing the same. That being said…there are people who get offended at the idea that a turban be turned into a rag for cleaning, and the question should really be asked, what is the difference between a portion of the rattiest looking material left (after removing better parts for bags or patkas) being used as a rag, and having car oil or dirt from the field fall on one’s turban? In the interest of keeping an open mind, it is definitely food for thought.

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African Gele

An African gele is a headwrap style specifically known and used in and around Nigeria, made of stiff, usually colourful fabric, that is then wrapped and moulded into a specific shape. It typically covers the woman’s entire hair and her ears, although earrings lower in lobes may well be visible. Originating with the Yorubas, it is often used for special occasions, such as weddings. The most common fabric used is a local one called “aso oke” which is made in Nigeria from either cotton or silk or a blend of both. However, also well known are damasc, brocade, and other African prints, amongst others. Stiff fabrics are most useful for a gele because they will keep their form. In this vein, stiffer turban fabrics sold on the GoSikh website may well work for creating a gele-type head wrap. African women wearing the gele are seen locally as queens: beautiful, feminine, and regal. The gele is more beautiful to them than a tiara or crown. The fabrics are often made with a shiny or metallic sheen. Local African television has recently used African women in gele in various high positions. Although head covering in African slave colonies started out with a dark past, with women being forced to cover their head so as not to “distract and confuse” European men, the women took that requirement and owned ​it, using it to their benefit to make themselves the most beautiful head coverings they could. Other areas of Africa have other head coverings that look different, and these seem to have mostly evolved at similar times, from a similar reason, albeit with vastly different looks in the end. The gele is one of the best known and most regal forms of African headdress. Recently, the gele has been taken to new heights of embellishment including rhinestones, silk flowers, and sequins, to make it more showy. Some different forms of gele have different names including but not limited to: “butterfly gele”, “rose gele”, and “double gele”. Many youtube tutorials exist on how to tie a gele. For some reason, the queenly look of women in gele seems to be almost the most well accepted by the European/American/Caucasian egocentric community where headwear is not deemed culturally “appropriate” by many anymore. Perhaps it is because the women sometimes wear the gele along with outfits that some other cultures which are seen as “oppressing women” would deem inappropriate, such as with shoulders and arms bare, low cut tops, and short skirts. Therefore to the European/American/Caucasian community maybe it ends up obvious that this is not about oppressing women in this case. This remains somewhat unclear. There is a recent trend to try and keep those same European/American/Caucasian people from wearing cultural headwear such as gele, deeming it “cultural appropriation”. Opinions seem divided on this subject, with many stating that if a community first of all subjects women to forced covering, oppressing them, how is it fair for that society to turn around and start doing the same thing, making it popular by mimicking them years after they bullied them into doing so? Others seem to think that fast-tracking any kind of headwrap to fashion shows and the bling of the red carpet situations, awards ceremonies and more, can be only beneficial long term for acceptance of all people who wear cultural headwear, especially as there are many of them.

(Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash)

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