This blog explores the contemporary political and cultural trends from a distinct perspective
Why the turban matters
Published on February 27, 2008 By Bahu Virupaksha In US Domestic

Senator Barack Obama is facing flak over a picture showing him in a turban.  Until the 1960's the US was a country in which almost every self respecting individual would be found wearing a hat. And there is nothing wrong in it as the head dress is a part of the sartorial get up of any culture. In fact most parts of the world would probably interpret a bare head as a gesture of rudeness and unseemly behavior. Covering the head for prayer, in church and other ceremonial situations is still considered a sign of culture. And therefore what Senator Barack Obama did is in keeping with the cultural pattern that is prevalent in Kenya. In fact he was given the head dress of a tribal elder an honor indeed.

One of the unfortunate consequences of globalization has been the standardization of attires all across the world. Native dress patterns and sartorial accouretment have virtually died out. We see the same jeans, trousers and shirts all over the world and whenever we see anyone wearing a traditional dress we feel uncomfortable. The head dress is particularly open to such perceptions because of its association with rank, status and position in society. Until the 18th century, sumptuary regulations were in force in Europe through which peasant folks were forbidden to wear furs and silks. We would coponsider such restrictions to be absurd today, but just a few centuries back any breach of sumptuary laws was almost a capital offence.

The USA, founded as it was by Puritans who fled Europe to avoid percecution, did not have any of these outmoded and obolete laws. In fact the jeans, the veritable uniform of the 49ers has become the fashion statement of the USA. Even Presidents and the equivalent to American Royalty, the film stars of Hollywood flaunt jeans. With such an egalitarian history of sartorial equality, it is surprising that Hillary Clinton's campaign should make such a fuss about the head dress of Senator Barack Obama.



Barack Obama, right, is dressed as a Somali elder by Sheikh Mahmed Hassan, left, during his visit to Wajir in northeastern Kenya, near the borders with Somalia and Ethiopia. Photograph: AP


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