Indigenous fashion is a celebration of diversity, echoing the stories of each community’s journey. Intricate beadwork, handwoven textiles, and intricate patterns narrate tales of ancestors, spirituality, and the natural world. These garments are not just attire; they are embodiments of culture, passed down through generations.
Adornments play an equally vital role, serving as symbols of spiritual significance and personal expression. Feathers, shells, and gemstones are meticulously integrated into jewellry, headdresses, and accessories, each carrying a unique tale of tradition and reverence.
One remarkable aspect of indigenous fashion is its adaptability. Designers and artists over the years, continue to ingeniously merge tradition with contemporary flair, reimagining age-old aesthetics into runway-worthy creations. This fusion serves as a bridge between the past and the present, inviting outsiders to appreciate the intricate beauty and depth of Indigenous cultures.
Let’s take a peek into some of these indigenous looks from around the world.
The Batoola’ of the Arabian Woman:
Also spelled ‘batula’ or called “burghu”, it is a traditional face covering typically worn by Bedouin women from the Persian Gulf region, which includes Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. This tradition dates back to centuries ago. Traditionally, the burghu was worn as soon as a girl began to show signs of puberty. It was worn out of modesty rather than religion, both at home and out in public. Other than during prayer time or hajj, when it was replaced by a prayer shawl, it was only removed during intimate times between a husband and wife, when sleeping, or on rare occasions such as doctor’s visits.
The mask was originally worn as protection from the harsh, desert climate to help keep hot sand and dust out of the nose and mouth, and not necessarily a tool to cover a woman from the male gaze, although history has it that it serves that function too.
To eat or drink, a woman lifted the lower end of the burghu by placing the index finger of the left hand under the stiff central ridge and pushing it up, resting the left thumb next to her mouth under her lower lip. Once the food is placed in her mouth with her right hand, the burghu is dropped back in position and she chews with the burghu completely concealing her mouth.
Today, most young girls reserve the face mask for special occasions, opting for a dazzling, crystalized rendition— which can be bought at jewellry stores in the mall— for a wedding ceremony.
The large turbans of the Nihang Singh:
The Nihang Singhs are the modern-day descendants of Guru Gobind Singh’s army. They are unique among Sikh orders for being military in nature and for the distinctive rich blue of their traditional robes and large turbans, which are often embellished.
Today, these “ascetic warriors” are prominent figures at Hola Mahalla. They still carry traditional weapons, and “are skilled at tent-pegging, gatka or fencing, jousting, and other war-like sports.” They are also proficient at horseback-riding stunts and archery.
The Khasi’s of India:
Amongst the Khasis in Meghalaya, in north-eastern India, women enjoy control over property and inheritance in one of the world’s last surviving matrilineal societies, and they continue to occupy public spaces. Unlike other parts of the world, children of the Khasi community are given their mother’s last name, husbands live in the homes of their wives, and the youngest daughters are given inherited property.
The Khasi traditional female dress is rather elaborate with several pieces of cloth, giving the body a cylindrical shape. On ceremonial occasions, they wear a crown of silver or gold on the head. A spike or peak is fixed to the back of the crown, corresponding to the feathers worn by the menfolk.
The Sami Reindeer Herders of Lapland:
Sami can trace their roots back to the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. Reindeer herding has long been a way of life for them, and many Sami herders still make their living from selling reindeer. They spend months moving their herd in cold, often sub-zero temperatures, and bedding down in lavvu, traditional and temporary tipi-like shelters made from poles of spruce wood and covered in reindeer hides. In the Sami culture, reindeer are sacred: an animal that is essential in nearly every aspect of living, from feeding bellies to keeping warm.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the traditional regions of Sámi reindeer husbandry were divided by state borders between four states: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, which led to the destabilization of traditional reindeer husbandry practices.
The Herero women of Namibia:
Decked out in voluminous Victorian-style dresses, complete with horn-shaped headgear, the Herero ladies of Namibia have held on tight to a piece of 19th-century history.
For over a century, these women have fiercely protected their dress as a crucial part of their cultural identity and style that was influenced by the wives of German missionaries and colonialists who first came to the country in the early 1900s.
The Herero women’s long dress has become a symbol of Herero tradition for Herero, tourists, scholars, and other Namibians.
Embracing cultural heritage while infusing modern influences, Indigenous fashion transcends mere aesthetics, embodying a powerful connection to history, identity, and pride. As we admire the intricacies of beadwork and the symbolism behind each feather, let’s honour the profound beauty of Indigenous fashion and the ongoing efforts to keep traditions alive in the modern world.
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