Part 2: The Turban Across the Globe

 Across the Globe: The Secular Turban

My next step in understanding the role and historical significance of the Sikh turban, was to see which other cultures around the world wear turbans, in a non-religious sense. (If you want, you can read Part 1: Secular History the Turban here.)

Middle East

In many parts of the Middle East, men would wear turbans whereas women wear long headscarves that served to cover their faces from the sun at all times, as part of their everyday dress, (7).


The “headwrap” can be found in all areas of Africa. Apart from religious reasons,  it’s believed that it is worn as a protection from sandstorms, wind, heat and cold, (2).

Fengu Womans Turban by Barbara Tyrell

Fengu Womans Turban by Barbara Tyrell

Women may wear turbans in Africa more often than in any other country. The turban protects one from the heat and sun of the country, and when women carry water and other items on their head, the turban  provides a solid base on which to hold the vessel, (3).

The Fengu people wear an Iqhiya, or colloquially known as the doek. It is the main part of the headdress and will either complement the outfit or contrast it. With the iqhiya, women sometimes wear a Santulo – which is made up of different colors and adds volume to the headdress. In Africa, the bigger the headdress the more beautiful the woman is, (4a) (4b).

Some sources say that the iqhiqya is used to indicated a married status, (5).

Adult females, particularly the Yoruba of Nigeria and Ndebele of Southern Africa, most often wear cloth head ties wrapped in numerous shapes and styles. Fashion changes as well as creativity and individual flair influence their head-tie arrangements. A highly desirable fabric for women’s head ties in western Africa comes from a manufacturer in England, but women also select hand-woven cloth to match their wrapper set, (6).

Picture 4


A variety of different head-wraps and turbans also exist in Asia.

Picture 4

Different ethnic groups use them to symbolize their culture and religion. For example, the gaung baung is a traditional Burmese turban. It part of the traditional attire of many ethnic groups in modern day Burma, and is a part of ceremonial attire as well as is a sign of rank, (7b). Unfortunately, I was unable to find the symbolism or cultural reasoning behind the turbans of Asia.

Picture 2


Miniature Painting from Western India

In India, some styles of turban are meant to show honor and respect, and some cultures offer a turban to guests to wear.

In other instances, turbans were a sign of nobility and members of aristocracy would always wear certain types of turbans as a symbol of their wealth and stature, (8).


The turban has been en-vogue amongst artists in Europe.



“Turbans were a staple of the artist’s studio used to keep paint and marble dust out of their hair.

To the left, clockwise, starting at upper right, Van Eyck painted his self portrait in one; Durer depicted the artist Michael Wolmegut, his teacher, wearing a black turban while, in the lower left corner Adam Kraft sculpted his self-portrait in a turban too,” (8b.)

“Turbans were so ubiquitous in studios that Rembrandt’s many figures wearing turbans are on the poetic level ‘artists in the studio.’ ….Turbans were for a long time a prominent feature of studio life.” (8b).


The turban in American may be a symbol of a persons’ cultural or ethnic heritage, or it may just be a fun touch one’s adding to his/her own wardrobe, (10).

“The African American woman’s headwrap exhibits the features of sub-Saharan aesthetics and worldview.  In the United States…. during slavery, [some slave owners] imposed its wear as a mark of enslavement, (9)

Later it evolved into the stereotype that whites held of the “Black Mammy” servant, (9).

From: Tumblr

From: Tumblr

The enslaved and their descendants, however, have regarded the headwrap as a helmet of courage that evoked an image of true homeland: be that ancient Africa or the newer homeland, America.

The simple head rag worn by millions of enslaved women and their descendants has served as a uniform of communal identity; but at its most elaborate, the African American woman’s headwrap has functioned as a “uniform of rebellion” signifying absolute resistance to loss of self-definition,” (9).

Cancer: In western countries and in the United States, a woman may wear a colorful head scarf similar to a turban if she’s experienced hair loss after chemotherapy treatments.e, (10).
















3 thoughts on “Part 2: The Turban Across the Globe

  1. Pingback: Part 1: Secular History of the Turban | A Kaur's Thoughts

  2. Pingback: A hitchhiker’s guide to the turban « American Turban

  3. Pingback: Why We African Head Dress | African Essence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s