Christine Brown: Textiles for the Head: Utility, Identity, Authority

On December 7, 2013, Christine Brown


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on “Textiles for the Head,”  here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

Christine is an active member of the local rug community, a collector of, and something of an expert on ethnic jewelry.  She travels widely and is especially interested in traditional societies still visible in the modern world.  In the work world she is a professional in the USAID staff.  She has given a number of RTAM programs and some of the virtual versions of them have attracted viewers in the thousands.  “Textiles for the Head” is her most recent effort, and is the first of two in a series.

Christine began with a lecture illustrated by projection.

Slide 1 Title

Slide 1 left

Slide 1 right

Like many of you, I love to travel, especially to countries where at least some segment of the population still lives a traditional lifestyle, and still makes, wears, or uses jewelry, clothing, other types of textiles, and utilitarian objects of various kinds. I have been struck by the range of textiles that people place on their heads—in terms of the purposes for which they are used and the materials of which they are made.


 In putting together this talk, I quickly realized that there was no way to do justice to it in one, 90-minute program. So, I decided to have today’s presentation be an introduction to the incredible array of textiles placed on the head and some of the reasons why. My goal is to sufficiently pique your interest in the topic so that two things happen:

 • You will want to attend a second, more in-depth presentation next year; and more importantly,

• On your next trip to an area where people still wear traditional clothing, you will pay particular attention to the objects on people’s heads and be curious about their purpose or purposes. Ask yourself if the object is meant to:

1. Reveal the wearer’s ethnicity and status; or

2. Conceal the wearer from public view?

3. Communicate personal achievement; or simply to

4. Adorn and beautify?

5. Attract good fortune; or

6. Deflect danger, either tangible or intangible?

7. Manifest joy in celebrating special occasions; or

8. Express sadness and loss at the passing of an individual?

9. Project power and authority; or

10. Show deference to power and authority?

 As we will see this morning, objects placed on the head can, and usually do, serve multiple purposes simultaneously.


 During today’s presentation, I will be showing a mix of objects that illustrate some of the purposes I just mentioned and the diversity of materials used to create them. I will also show images of these objects being worn or used so that you can see how they are placed on the head.

 To avoid mistakes in terminology and mangling the pronunciations, I will use generic English terms to describe the objects. However, the local terms for most of the items are included in italics in my written text.


 Let’s look now at how objects placed on the head can reveal the wearer’s ethnicity and social status. I would like to start by reading a paragraph from an exhibition catalogue entitled, Crowning Achievements: African Arts of Dressing the Head. It was co-edited by Christine Kreamer of the National Museum of African Art here in Washington, D.C. The catalogue contains a paragraph that eloquently describes how textiles worn on the head reveal the wearer’s social status. As the title indicates, the catalogue focuses on African head dressing. However, I think the statements apply to head dressing in traditional cultures around the world.

QUOTE: Becoming a person is a life-time process in most societies, and an individual’s status and relationship to the community undergoes many changes throughout the life course.  In African societies, an individual’s status is both ascribed and achieved….Ascribed status is often dependent on one’s lineage, birth position in the family, and gender; these factors clearly affect an individual’s access to cultural and material resources.  Yet, within these constraints, individuals also make choices and accumulate status over their lifetime through their personal talents and achievements, their active participation in cultural institutions, and their acceptance or rejection of expected and chosen roles.  As part of this on-going process, people acquire hats and other objects of dress and adornment, along with the right to wear them.  Dress becomes an objective emblem of status within the community.  In everyday situations and on ceremonial occasions, headwear offers people the possibility of expressing and communicating their sense of self, their engagement in particular social roles, their accumulated status, and their relationships to others within their society.  END QUOTE

1.a. Ethnicity

To kick things off, I am going to show two types of headdresses that identify each wearer as a member of a specific ethnic group, defined broadly as a group of people sharing a common and distinctive cultural heritage. Let’s see if any of you can identify the ethnicity of the person by the item on his or her head.

Slide 2 left

[Photo, Arnoldi & Kreamer, Pg. 41]

Here is a color image of the head dress in the photo above.

Slide 2 right

[Photo, Arnoldi & Kreamer, Pg. 40]

Has anyone spent time in the part of the world where this lady resides? Any idea where she’s from?

 She is of the Zulu ethnic group from South Africa. Her wide, flared hat (isicholo) indicates that she is a married woman. The woven fiber headband above her forehead is worn as a sign of her respect for the adult men in her husband’s family.

 (Image repeated for ease if comparison)Slide 2 left

This style of hat is based on a 19th century Zulu woman’s hair style. In the early part of the century, married women shaved their heads, leaving only a small tuft on the crown. By the latter half of the century, they were adding grass or false hair, all of which was smeared with fat and red ochre.

 By the 20th century, this style of detachable woven hat had evolved. It has a basketry foundation and is overlaid with string dyed with a mixture of red ochre and fat. Commercial, red yarn is also used.

Does anyone have any idea where the man in the image below is from?

Slide 3 left

[Photo, Maramba, Pg. 48]

He is an unmarried Bontoc man from the northernmost part of the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The hat is worn for everyday and only by men. Its primary purpose is to serve as a pocket or bag to hold flint, tobacco, betel nut, etc. Its secondary function is to indicate a man’s marital status. A bachelor’s hat, like the one shown here, is low and flat and highly adorned. A married man’s hat is more conical in shape and undecorated.

Slide 3 right

[Photo, Maramba, Pg. 49]

This bachelor’s hat is about five inches in diameter, and is woven of natural and dyed-black rattan. It is adorned with boar tusks, dog teeth, a large mother-of-pearl button, and red-dyed rattan strips placed across the crown and around the lower edge. The chin straps are of braided human hair decorated with small, yellow and white glass beads. Note how it is worn at the back of the head, not on top.

 As we have seen in these two examples, on the most basic level, headwear can identify a person ethnically, which by extension, often situates the person geographically.

 However, there are ethnic groups who originated in a particular geographical area but who, over time, had segments of their populations splinter off and migrate to new areas. When this happens, variations in clothing and head coverings occur. The splinter groups are still recognizable as belonging to a specific ethnic group, but over time, the changes to their clothing indicate which subgroup they belong to.

Judy Frater, a former curator here at the Textile Museum (1989-1992), authored a book entitled, Threads of Identity: Embroidery and Adornment of the Nomadic Rabaris, in which she traces the migratory history of the Rabari people from their original homeland in the state of Rajasthan in Western India, to the Indian states of Gujarat and Saurashtra.

 Although the three basic components of Rabari women’s clothing (skirt, blouse, head veil) remain the same across all of the subgroups, the fabric, color, and embellishment began to vary according to where each group settled. It is now possible to identify a Rabari woman’s subgroup and geographic home by her head veil and clothing.

 According to Frater, there are about 20 subgroups of Rabari, each residing in a specific territory that does not overlap with any other subgroup.  Here is a map of western India showing the distribution of Rabari groups.

Slide 4 map

 [Map, Frater, front]

I am going to show examples of veils from three of these subgroups—the Maru Raika in Rajasthan; the Vaghadia in the Kutch District of Gujarat; and the Machhukatha in Saurashtra.

 Slide 5

  [Photo, Frater, Pg. 106] 

Veils worn by the Maru Raika Rabari, those still in Rajasthan, are made of red cotton, are tie-dyed (bandhani), and are worn both for every day and for festivals. Their veils are not embroidered.

 Slide 6

[Photo, Frater, Pg. 52]

Above is a festival veil worn by Vaghadia Rabari women from Kutch. The veil is tie-dyed wool and has embroidery on the ends and down the center. It is also embellished with mirrors and buttons.

The elaborately embellished festival veil, below, is worn by the Machhukatha Rabari in Saurashtra.

Slide 7

[Photo, Frater, Pg. 80] 

It is wool and embellished with embroidery, mirrors, sequins, and wrapped fringes. The embroidered designs are of women, the tree of life, parrots, a scorpion, and elephants.

This is a photo of a Machhukatha woman wearing a similar example.

Slide 8

[Photo, Frater, Pg. 181]

 As we have seen, head veils can communicate common ethnicity, distinctive subgroup, and geographic location.

 1.b. Marital Status

Let’s look now at headdresses as an indicator of marital status.

The Akha people originated in Yunnan province in China,

Slide 9 map

[Map, Goodman, Pg. 14]

but over several centuries, many of them migrated south. They now comprise many different subgroups and span several countries. They still reside in southern China, but also live in eastern Burma, northern Thailand, northern Laos, and into western Vietnam.

Despite this subgroup differentiation and geographic spread, the Akha are immediately recognizable as Akha because of their clothing and headdresses. Girls’ clothing is similar to women’s except for the headdresses. Young girls wear caps which become more elaborately ornamented as the girls grow older.

 Here are front and back views of a married Loimi Akha woman’s headdress.


[Photo, Lewis, Pg. 211] (front)

Slide 10 right

[Photo, Lewis, Pg. 212] (back)

It is characterized by a flat, trapezoid-shaped silver piece at the back, and alternate rows of beads and silver buttons over the crown. Strings of hollow silver balls, coins, and beads hang down to the shoulders. Three flat, bell-shaped silver ornaments hang under the chin.

Below is a Loimi woman wearing such a headdress and headdress cover. The cover is indigo-dyed cotton decorated with appliqued triangles of cotton fabric in alternating colors, and white buttons and beads. Note how the headdress cover is worn at an angle rather than straight on. I have an example of a headdress cover to show later.

Slide 11

[Photo, Goodman, Pg. 246]

In the book, Peoples of the Golden Triangle, authors Paul and Elaine Lewis described the cap seen below as an “older” Loimi girl’s cap.

Slide 12  [Photo, Lewis, Pg. 212]

No age range was cited in the caption for girls wearing this style of cap, but given the considerable amount of adornment on it, I would guess the wearer is likely in her teens.

Below are front and back views of an U Lo-Akha headdress, comprised of two parts.

Slide 13 left[Photo, Lewis, Pg. 208] (front)

Slide 13 right[Goodman, Pg. 246] (back)

The base is a wide band decorated with silver buttons and coins, white buttons, and beads. Above it is a high, conical-shaped framework of bamboo covered with indigo-dyed cloth. This section is embellished with silver ornaments and chains, coins, beads, red-dyed feather tassels, gibbon fur, seeds, and pompons. The amounts and types of ornamentation vary according to marital and economic status, age, and how recently the woman has had a baby. 

 This is an U Lo girl’s cap.

Slide 14

[Photo, Goodman, Pg. 206]

It is a round, close-fitting cap bunched at the top and adorned with pompons, silver bells and half-globe ornaments, beads, a looped silver chain, and a chin strap decorated with white buttons.

As we have seen, these headdresses identify the wearers first and foremost as Akha, then as belonging to a specific subgroup, and finally whether the wearer is a married woman or an unmarried girl. The quantity of silver adorning these headdresses is also an indicator of economic status, which brings us to our next topic–the use of coins as adornment on clothing and headdresses.

1.c. Economic Status

Palestinian headdresses provide good examples.

Below is a married woman’s headdress that is still worn today in the Hebron hills in Israel.

Slide 15 left

[Photo, Weir, Pg. 185]

It is a heavily embroidered, circular cap (araqiyeh) gathered into a point at the crown, padded with wool, and lined. It is placed on the head over an undercap, the embroidered lower part of which can be seen here. Encircling the crown is a band of large silver coins. Embroidered cotton hairbands are attached at the back and would be wound around the woman’s hair as shown in the photo below.

Slide 15 right

 [Photo, Weir, Pg. 185]

Below is another coin headdress from the southern Hebron hills.

Slide 16 left

[Photos, Weir, Pg. 187]

It is often referred to as a “money hat,” and is worn only during a wedding ceremony. According to Shelagh Weir, British anthropologist and author of the book, Palestinian Costume, where these pictures are taken from, this type of headdress is made commercially by women in Bethlehem for brides in the villages of the Hebron hills and the western foothills.

The base is cotton and the crown is embroidered. The coins are sewn on in densely overlapping rows. According to the caption for this photo, most of the coins are Ottoman era, ranging from the mid-1700s to the early 1900s. The little ear flaps and forehead section are adorned with coins; a triangular, white metal amulet; various glass, plastic, imitation pearl, and coral beads; metal ornaments; and a pink plastic hand suspended from a strand of beads.

The photo below is a bride wearing a similar headdress.

Slide 16 right

[Photo, Weir, Pg. 187]


Let’s look now at face veils. The use of face veils is an ancient tradition going back thousands of years. They are worn by women, and sometimes men, all over the world, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes only for special occasions, often weddings and the transporting of a bride to the groom’s house.

Westerners often assume that the sole purpose of a veil is to conceal the wearer’s identity and shield a woman from public view. But veils do much more than that. In her book, Covering the Moon: An Introduction to Middle Eastern Face Veilstextile and dress historian Gillian Vogelsang states the following:

QUOTE A veil, and in particular a face veil, has many functions, and there are different reasons for a woman to cover her face.  A veiled woman approaching from a distance will signal that she is a respectable (married) woman.  From closer up, when the colour, shape and main decoration of the veil can be seen, she shows her affiliations (ethnicity, family).  From nearby, when the texture, sound, smell, and detailed appearance of the veil are noticeable, the veil tells something about the woman’s personality (personal style, quality, character, and so forth).  Inside the family home, whether a woman wears her veil or not is dependent on who else is present and thus her veil indicates her position in the family.  In short, the veil is used to indicate a woman’sidentity at various levels…END QUOTE

 Let’s look at examples of face veils worn in different countries in the Arabian Peninsula and Afghanistan and Pakistan. The purpose of this is to give you an idea of the range of styles that exist, from small ones that cover a specific portion of the face, to ones that extend down the torso.

Below are different forms of the face veil (battulah) worn in the eastern and southeastern parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Slide 17 left

[Photo, Vogelsang, Pg. 136]

They are worn by Bedouin, village, and urban women. According to Vogelsang, most of these veils are custom made to enhance a woman’s appearance. The cut of the veil emphasizes the strong points and conceals the less attractive areas of a woman’s face. The shape of the veil may vary according to the age and marital status of the wearer. In the United Arab Emirates, brides-to-be, elderly women, and widows wear more modest styles, while young, married women wear a more revealing one.

In Oman, the size of the eye slit may reflect the ethnic origin of the wearer: a less concealing form is often worn by women of Arab origin, while a more concealing form is worn by Baluch women.

 The veil below

Slide 17 right

[Photo, Vogelsang, Pg. 135]

(niqab) was worn on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula through at least the mid-1950s. It had either holes, or as seen here, slits for the eyes. The veil was kept in place using three cords: one at the forehead, one level with the eyes, and one around the neck.

The image below shows outdoor apparel for an urban woman from the Hijaz region of western Saudi Arabia, which borders the Red Sea.

Slide 18 left

[Photo, Vogelsang, Pg. 116]

The holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located in this region so women dress conservatively. The veil is probably made of starched linen and the wrapper is blue cotton.  Notice the length of the veil.

 Below, is an Afghan full-length garment (chadari) that covers the entire body from the head to the ankles.

Slide 18 right

[Photo, Vogelsang, Pg. 185]

It is worn by urban and village women in Afghanistan, the northern parts of Pakistan, and Kashmir. This example is made of fine cotton and is decorated with white work embroidery on the crown and around the eye grid.

These used to be made of silk or cotton but are now usually synthetic. The choice and quality of material depend upon the status and financial situation of the woman’s family.

Depending on the region, it is made up of either three or four sections: (1) a skullcap that sits on the head; (2) a face covering that hangs from the cap down the face, with a rectangular mesh over the eyes for the woman to look through. (3) In Pakistan, there is a separate, additional panel that attaches to the face veil (which I don’t have a picture of). (4) Finally, there is the body covering that hangs from the cap and covers the entire body to just above the ankles.

Bedouin women from the Negev Desert in Israel and the Sinai region of Egypt often sew the silver and gold coins given to them as part of their dowry on to their face veils.

 Below is a Bedouin woman’s face veil from the Negev Desert in Israel.

Slide 19 left

[Photo, Weir, Pg. 191]

It is composed of a headband that is sometimes embroidered, as the example shown here, and sometimes left plain, that ties at the back of the head. The two cotton bands adorned with coins that form the veil attach to the headband at the center of the forehead, descend over the nose, and hang down over the mouth to below the chin. The cotton bands shown here are embroidered in cross-stitch. Each row of coins is attached by a chain of beads to the side of the headband above the ears, thus creating large loops below the eyes. The headband and veil are heavily decorated with coins, beads, chains, and silver discs.

The woman below is a Bedouin from the Negev Desert. Note that, in addition to the coin-covered face veil, she also has a nose ring.

 Slide 19 right

[Photo, Weir, Pg. 190]

Below is one type of face veil worn in the south Sinai region of Egypt.

Slide 20 left

[Photo, Vogelsang, Pg. 110]

It is made of yellow cotton decorated with horizontal rows of pendants. The rows are flanked by bands of beading along the two sides and lower edge of the veil. The yellow ground color identifies the wearer as being from south Sinai. Veils worn by women in the north tend to have a red ground color.

The photo below shows a woman wearing a similar south Sinai face veil.

 Slide 20 right

[Photo, Vogelsang, Pg. 110]

 The photo below shows four different styles of veils that are all worn by Bedouin women in northern Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia.

Slide 21 left

[Photo, Vogelsang, Pg. 129]

They are all made of black cotton decorated with metal bosses, chains, amulets, tassels, etc.

The Bedouin woman below is from Yemen.

Slide 21 right

[Photo, Mauger, Pg. 50]

Her veil is similar to the one in the lower left of the previous image. It is tied on above the woman’s nose and covers the lower part of her face. I brought an example of this type of veil to show later.

3. Achievement and the Earned Right to Wear an Object

Let’s look at headwear that can only be worn by someone who has earned the right to wear it.

 Different subgroups of Naga live in the state of Nagaland in northeast India, seen here on the map.

Slide 22 map

[Map, Baldizzone 2000, Pg. 232]

They were headhunters until the early 20th century. The taking of heads was not done for sport. It was a serious undertaking that was believed necessary to the continued well-being of a community, including its people, fields, and livestock. When a man succeeded in taking a head, he earned the right to wear specific types of adornment.

When this practice was stopped, primarily due to Baptist missionaries converting them to Christianity, the Nagas lost the means to earn the right to wear this adornment. Over time, the different Naga groups devised other ways to merit wearing specific objects.

Nagas believe that certain objects are imbued with inherent power that will either be benevolent or malevolent, depending on how the objects are handled or mishandled.

Animal teeth, horns, and claws are considered particularly powerful and are worn, without exception, only by men. Hornbill feathers are also revered by Nagas. The number of feathers represent specific exploits, for example, participating in a successful raid or giving a feast.

Here is a warrior’s hat that would be worn by a man from the Chang subgroup of Nagas.

Slide 23 left

[Photo: Ao,  Pg. 47]

It is made of plaited cane with yellow orchid fiber woven into it. The hat is believed to have rare power and status due to the various animal parts adorning it. These include slices of mithun horn (mithun is a semi-domesticated bison), bear fur, dyed goat’s hair, a hornbill feather, and a tiger claw chin strap. 

The image below is a warrior wearing a similar hat.

Slide 23 right

[Photo, Jacobs, Pg. 14]

The Maasai ethnic group in the east African countries of Kenya and Tanzania provide another example of earned adornment. Over the course of their lives, Maasai males must pass through a series of age grades. These are clearly defined stages, each one meant to impart knowledge about the role and behavior expected of a male at that particular stage. For the Maasai, the three main stages are childhood, warriorhood, and elderhood. Successfully completing each stage earns the right to wear certain adornment.

The photo below shows a Maasai man wearing an ostrich feather headdress.

Slide 24 left

[Photo, Fisher, Pg. 22]

This indicates that he has not yet killed a lion. The feather headdress was originally worn during raids and wars to give psychological advantage to the wearer because of its height. Now it is worn only for major ceremonies and dances.

The photo below shows two Maasai men who have earned the right to wear lion mane headdresses.                        

Slide 24 right

 [Photo, Fisher, Pg. 19]

4. Adorn and Beautify

Let’s look now at textiles meant simply to adorn. Hair ribbons or braids (cintas) are worn by different groups throughout Mexico and Guatemala. Some are shiny rayon ribbons that are purchased, braided together with the woman’s hair into twin plaits, and tied in a bow at the back of the head. Others are much more extravagant, being woven on a loom, often with intricate patterns, and often adorned with pompons.

Here are two examples from Guatemala.  The woman on the left, below, wears a narrow, 40-foot, red ribbon wrapped around her head that creates a sort of halo effect. The last two and one-half feet are patterned with multi-colored geometric designs.

Slide 25 left

[Photos, Deuss, Pg. 32]

The woman on the right is from Nebaj. Her hair ribbon is a brightly striped piece of fabric 15 inches wide that is twisted around the hair and head to form a turban. 

 5. Attract Good Fortune

 Let’s look at an example of an object worn to attract good fortune.

Chinese majority and minority groups have a long history of creating children’s clothing, including shoes, bibs, and caps, that express a mother’s hope for a child’s future success in life.

The example below is a boy’s cap in the form of a tiger, expressing the hope that he will grow up to be strong.

Slide 26

  [Photo, Lin, Pg. 51]

6. Protect and Repel Danger (Tangible and Intangible)

Certain textiles are placed on the head to protect from tangible and intangible dangers.

 By tangible dangers, I refer to:

(i) discomfort or injury from carrying heavy loads; or

(ii) exposure to the elements, including sun, rain, snow, sandstorms, etc.

 (i) Head Rings

 In traditional societies around the world, human beings, especially women, carry heavy loads on their heads, including containers of water, milk, and other liquids; firewood; and produce and products of all kinds.

The Fulani comprise different sub-groups that are scattered across West Africa, from Senegal and Guinea on the western edge of the continent all the way east to Cameroun, as seen in this map.

Slide 27 map

[Map, Anawalt, Pg. 551]

The different sub-groups range from being sedentary, semi-nomadic, to fully nomadic. The subgroups that raise cattle use beautifully-carved gourds to transport milk from one camp to another or to market to sell.

The Fulani woman in the image below is probably from northern Nigeria.

Slide 28 left

[Photo, Fisher, Pg. 166]

She has tied a head scarf over her coiffure and placed a thick wad of coiled fabric over it as a cushion. A cloth head veil is draped over that and extends down her back to protect her from the sun. A benefit of these cloth head protectors is that they can be shaped to accommodate a woman’s hairstyle.

As illustrated in the photo below, these head rings need to be malleable so that they can be adjusted to a woman’s hair style and adornment.

Slide 28 right

This woman is also Fulani, but likely hails from Mali or Senegal.

Below is a Rabari head ring with a long, rectangular cloth piece hanging down the back. Both the circlet and the dorsal piece are adorned with cowrie shells, red pompons, and tassels.

Slide 29 left

[Photo, Van Cutsem, Pg. 104]

 The head ring below is from Rajasthan.

Slide 29 right

The circlet is bound with blue-dyed strings and cowrie shell rosettes are attached to the rim. Suspended from the rosettes is a net of cotton strands bound in red, yellow, and blue thread. The strands are intersected with small clusters of cowries.

 (ii) Protection from the Elements


 The type of hat shown in these photos is worn by both men and women in Bhutan and northeast India.

Slide 30 left

[van Strydonck, Plate 70]

It is a waterproof hat (gamashamo) made of felted yak hair with descending appendages that funnel rain away and keep the wearer’s head dry.

The photo immediately above is of two men of the Brokpa ethnic group, who are semi-nomadic herdsmen living in the eastern-most district of Bhutan. They differ in ethnicity and language from other Bhutanese and are closely related to the Monpa people in northeast India.

The photo below is a Monpa woman from the state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India (in the same area as Nagaland).

Slide 30 right

[Photo, Untracht, Pg. 139]

Her yak hair hat is tall and cylindrical, with many more appendages than the Brokpa style. Both styles serve the same purpose of keeping the head dry.

 Rain and Sun

The mushroom-shaped hat below is one style of rain and sun hat worn by men and women in Borneo, an island in the Malay archipelago.

Slide 31 left

The lower, cone-shaped section is adorned with narrow vertical bands of red, yellow, white, and black beads. The upper section is made of plaited, brown and dark red palm leaves.

 The wearer’s hair, as seen in the photo below, is worn swept up in the tube.

 Slide 31 right

[Photo, Munan, Pg. 44]

The plaited hood in the image below is used by women in several ethnic groups in northeastern Congo (Central Africa) to protect their babies while carrying them on their backs.

Slide 32 left

[Photo, Van Cutsem, Pg. 76]

The archival photo below shows two of these in use.

Slide 32 right

[Photo, Biebuyck, Pg. 91]


The knitted caps (chullos) in the image below are from Peru, made of very fine sheep wool in many colors and patterns and are use to protect from cold.

Slide 33 left

[Photo, Alvarez, Pg. 40-41]

Nilda Alvarez, in her book, Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands, states that in some areas, only women knit these caps; in other areas, only men do, and in some areas, both men and women knit them. The Spanish introduced knitting to Peru in colonial times, but it has now become integral to the Andean region.

 Slide 33 right

The cap shapes, colors, designs, quality, and ornamentation differ between regions. They are often ornamented with tassels, button, and beads.

6.B Intangible Danger

Let’s look now at two items believed to protect against intangible dangers, by which I mean malign influences that inflict harm on humans.

Rabari Amuletic Discs (dhabak)

 Among the Rabari that we talked about earlier, unmarried girls wear a pair of beaded leather discs over their temples to protect them from malign influences. The discs are of leather adorned with beads attached in geometric patterns.

Here are two young Rabari girls wearing leather disks.

Slide 34

[Photo, Baldizonne 1997, Pg. 123)

Below is an older Rabari girl wearing them. Hers appear to be completely covered in concentric circles of colored beads divided by smaller, gold-colored beads. The edges are wrapped in red thread.

Slide 35

 [Photo, Randhawa, Pg. 88]

Although we can’t see the reverse side of the discs in these images, I brought two examples to show. Each one has a fabric strap at the back used to secure the disc to the wearer’s hair.

Below are examples of caps worn by male babies of the Yao ethnic group in Northern Thailand.

Slide 36 grouped

[Photo, Lewis, Pg. 146]

The red pompons are meant to symbolize a cock’s comb, which is believed to protect the child from evil spirits. The boy’s caps are made of red and black cloth with appliqued patterns outlined in white. Large red pompons are attached to the top and to the embroidered band around the edge. The hat with two pompons in the image at right also has silver ornaments attached to it.

 The caps below are for Yao female babies. They are made of black or indigo homespun cloth and are covered with embroidery. Large wool pompons encircle the entire top; ball-shaped ones are sometimes attached over the ears. A chin strap can be seen on the one to the right.

Slide 37 grouped

[Photo, Lewis, Pg. 146]

Below is a picture of a Yao male baby wearing a cap adorned with coins, cowrie shells, and beads, in addition to the pompons.

Slide 38

[Photo, Lewis, Pg. 135]

You can also see his multicolored, beaded chin strap.

 10. Show Deference to Another Person

 There is one other example of headwear that is worn by a particular ethnic group for a particular purpose that I would like to talk about today.

 The Tuareg are a Berber group living in the Sahara Desert in West Africa.

Slide 39

[Photo, Fisher, Pg. 200]

Although their veils provide protection from the extreme climate, this is not their primary role. Males only start to wear veils from the age of about seventeen. Younger boys do not wear them. In Tuareg society, the veil is seen as a sign of male maturity and status. Men wear one continually, at home and away from home.

 Anthropologist Robert Murphy wrote an article in the journal, American Anthropologist, entitled, “Social Distance and the Veil.” In it, he describes how the Tuareg head and face veil are put on:

QUOTE: The cloth is wrapped about the head to form a low turban and the end is then brought across the face, the top of the cloth falling across the nose and the bottom hanging well above the chin. …only a narrow slit is left open and even the eyes can barely be seen.

…the Tuareg wear the veil highest and conceal their faces most completely when among…those who are closest to them and know quite well who they are; they are sometimes most lax in the wearing of the veil when among non-Tuareg, exactly those from whom they could conceal their identity most successfully by veiling.

Among all segments of the Tuareg population, the veil is worn higher when confronting a person of power and influence.  The Tuareg do not prostate themselves before a chief…but do elevate their veils to the bridge of the nose.     END QUOTE

I find this an interesting contrast to what men do in the West, which is to remove their hats as a sign of respect.


Although I have not shown examples illustrating every purpose I mentioned at the beginning of the talk, I hope I have succeeded in piquing your interest enough that you will be interested in a second program on textiles worn on the head.

There are several very interesting examples that I would love to talk about but time just would not permit today. Whether a second program happens or not, I hope all of you will now pay close attention to what people have on their heads and see if you can come up with some logical suppositions as to the purpose or purposes for which an object is placed on the head.

 I think it is time to stop and look at actual examples that I, as well many of you, have brought in.

 Christine now moved to treat the material in the room.


 She began with a large piece I do not have a comprehensive image of. Christine said that this is a Rabari veil.  She is pointing to the rooster design.  She said that she has never seen one with the bright orange ends that this one has.

C4 (numbers are not sequential)


Here it is laying on a table beforehand.


Detail images of C4:






Comment on C1:  This rectangular piece was originally attached to a head ring that the wearer would place on the head for protection when transporting produce or other items.  This piece was used by the Banjara ethnic group in western India.



Comment on C2:  This beaded head adornment is one type worn by a Rabari groom during a wedding ceremony.  The red, double cord is used to tie it at the back of the head on top of the man’s turban.  The surface is completely covered in glass seed beads with larger beads forming a fringe at the bottom.

Details of C2.




The next set of images show a Rabari woman’s beaded braid cover.   The black cord at the top is used to attach it to a woman’s braid at the back of her head.







Comment on C5:  The image above is of a head ring from Rajasthan, western Inda.  As with the example seen in the slide earlier, it has a net of cotton strands bound in red, yellow, green, and blue thread and adorned with cowrie shells.



Comment on C6:  The veil in the image above is almost identical to the one in the slide seen earlier of a Bedouin woman from Yemen.  It is adorned with metal bosses, chains, and beads. Half of a zipper adorns the top edge.

Details of C6.




Akha Head Dress


Description of C7:  This is an Akha woman’s headdress from Burma.

Details of C7.




Akha Headdress Cover


Description of C8: This headdress cover is similar to the one in the slide shown earlier.  It is indigo-dyed cotton decorated with appliqued triangles of cotton fabric in alternating colors and white buttons and beads.

Detail of C8.




C8 worn over C7.


Description of C7 – C8 assemblage:

Christine took us to the next piece.


Akha Headdress


C9 front


C9 back


Description of C9:  The Akha headdress is made of coiled bamboo adorned with seeds, metal bosses, pompons, and two pieces of wood suspended at the front.

Details of C9.




Christine took us to the next piece.



Yemeni Woman’s Silk Hood


Description of C10:  The hood is of striped silk and adorned with silver amulets, coins, and beads.

Details of C10.



Christine held up two of the Rabari head discs we saw in her lecture.


Closer looks at them one at a time.






Hair Ribbon from Guatemala


Description of C13:  This hair ribbon of brightly striped fabric and pompons is worn by women from Nebaj, Guatemala.  

Below are several hat for which I do not have descriptions.



A side view of C14.












Description of C19.  Embroidered hat from Guizhou, China.

Side view of C19.  


Details of C19.



Christine took us to the next piece.



Head Ring from Rajasthan, India


Description of C20:  The head ring is comprised of two parts.  The circlet is of brown wool with a cream-colored design.  Attached to it is a net of cowrie shells ending in pompons.  The netting varies in color from red to yellow to blue.

Detail of C20.


A number of additional piece were brought in by audience members.  We do not have notes on some of them, but will give you what we have.



No Description

Detail images of C21.



The next two pieces were Romanian festival masks.  Similar festival masks were and are worn in many of the Balkan countries and even beyond.  Traditions vary, but they seem often to be intended to ward off evil spirits. 



Masks like these are still in use.



Here are some internet photos of such masks in use at Romanian festivals.




This is the most elaborate Romanian festival mask I found in a quick internet search.


You can see why the Romanian Tourism organization likes it.

The last head dress of the day was large, and I couldn’t get a comprehensive image of it.



No Description

Details of C24.




Christine answered questions and brought her program to a close.


The migration to the front of the Myers Room began.









I thank Christine for this interesting, and well-researched program, for permitting this virtual version, and for her help in fashioning it.  Wendel Swan assisted Christine with the slides.

Peggy Jones took another nice set of notes for me.


Christine provided a bibliography.


Alvarez, Nilda, 2007. Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands, Center for Traditional Textiles, Cusco, Peru.

 Anawalt, Patricia Rieff, 2007. The Worldwide History of Dress, Thames & Hudson, New York.

 Ao, Ayinla Shilu and Robert Liu, 2003. Naga Tribal Adornment: Signatures of Status and Self, The Bead Society of Greater Washington, Chevy Chase, Maryland.

 Arnoldi, Mary Jo and Christine Mullen Kreamer, 1995. Crowning Achievements: African Arts of Dressing the Head, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles.

 Baldizzone, Tiziana and Gianni, 1997. Timeless India, Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, India.

 Baldizzone, Tiziana and Gianni, 2000. Hidden Tribes of India, Local Colour, Hong Kong.

 Biebuyck, Daniel and Nelly Van den Abbeele, 1984. The Power of Headdresses, TENDI, S.A., Brussels, Belgium.

 Deuss, Krystyna, 1981. Indian Costumes from Guatemala, CTD Printers, Twickenham, Great Britain.

 Fischer, Angela, 1984. Africa Adorned, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.

 Frater, Judy, 2003. Threads of Identiy: Embroidery and Adornment of the Nomadic Rabaris, Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, India.

 Goodman, Jim, 1997. The Akha: Guardians of the Forest: People and Cultures of Southeast Asia, Teak House.

 Jacobs, Julian, 1990. The Nagas: Hill Peoples of Northeast India, Thames and Hudson, London.

 Lewis, Paul and Elaine, 1984. Peoples of the Golden Triangle: Six Tribes in Thailand, Thames and Hudson, London.

 Lin, Phylis Lan & Christi Lan Lin, 1996. Stories of Chinese Children’s Hats: Symbolism and Folklore, University of Indianapolis Press, Indianapolis.

 Maramba, Roberto, 1998. Form and Splendor: Personal Adornment of the Northern Luzon Ethnic Groups, Philippines, Bookmark, Inc., Makati City, Philippines.

Mauger, Thierry, 1987. The Bedouins of Arabia, Souffles, S.A., Paris.

Munan, Heidi, 2005.  Beads of Borneo, Editions Didier Millet, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Paris.

 Murphy, Robert, 1964. “Social Distance and the Veil,” American Anthropologist, 66 (Dec.): 1257-1274.

 Randhawa, T.S., 1998. Kachchh: The Last Frontier, Prakash Books, New Delhi, India.

 Van Strydonck, Guy, Francoise Pommaret-Imaeda, Yoshiro Imaeda, 1985. Bhutan: A Kingdom of the Eastern Himalayas, Shambhala, Boston.

 Untracht, Oppi 1997. Traditional Jewelry of India, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.

 Van Cutsem, Anne and Mauro Magliani, 1010. Powerful Headdresses: Africa/Asia, The Ira Brind Collection, 5 Continents, Milan, Italy.

 Vogelsang-Eastwood, Gillian and Willem Vogelsang, 2008. Covering the Moon, An Introduction to Middle Eastern Face Veils, Peeters, Leuven-Paris-Dudley, MA.

 Weir, Shelagh, 1989. Palestinian Costume, British Museum Publications, London.

Virtual versions of previous RTAM sessions, Christine has presented can be viewed using the links below:

Uzbek Clothing

“Tree of Life” Design

Romanian Textiles

I hope you enjoyed this virtual version of an ambitious post.


R. John Howe



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