The Language of Dress: Resistance and Accommodation in Jamaica, 1760-1890

The Language of Dress: Resistance and Accommodation in Jamaica, 1760-1890

The Language of Dress: Resistance and Accommodation in Jamaica, 1760-1890

The Language of Dress: Resistance and Accommodation in Jamaica, 1760-1890

Synopsis

This book is a study of how African enslaved and freed women used their fashion and style of dress as a symbol of resistance to slavery and accommodation to white culture in pre- and post-emancipation society. Africans brought aspects of their culture, such as folklore, music, language, religion and dress, with them to the Americas. The African cultural features were retained and nurtured in Jamaica because they guaranteed the survival of Africans and their descendants against European attempts at cultural annihilation. This book illuminates the complexities of accommodation and resistance, showing that these complex responses are not polar opposites but are in fact melded into each other. In addition, "Language of Dress reveals the dynamics of race, class and gender in Jamaican society and the role of women in British West Indian history. This work contributes to the ongoing interest in the history of women and in the history of resistance.

Excerpt

This study was inspired by my experiences growing up in Jamaica. The world of my childhood was populated by strong women who shared stories of their own struggles and of my ancestors' resilience and determination to create both a better life for their family and a space for themselves within the male-dominated society. For instance, Theresa Green, a woman huge in stature, owned her own business and was a boxer in her community. Theresa won every match and was happy to beat (literally) any man who dared to challenge her to a fight. GangGang raised cattle and became famous for climbing tall trees - a habit she maintained well into old age. These stories - showing that women were capable of mastering any job as well as any man - shaped, sustained and nourished me. More important, they shaped and sustained my mother and grandmother, who, like so many others, refused to be marginalized. Instead they relied on their inner strength and their own history to get them through life's daily challenges.

In many cultures, it is customary for individuals to save a particular garment that is symbolic of an event. Some women save their wedding dresses. Others may keep a garment with religious and symbolic significance, such as a baptismal or christening outfit. These garments are usually passed down from one generation to the next. My mother saved her children's baby clothes, a habit that my siblings and I found strange and at times embarrassing. On my visits home, my mother would retrieve the garments from a plastic bag, which was carefully hidden in her closet. She would lay out the clothes meticulously, then would indicate as she went along which garment I had worn at age one, two and so on. The clothes were discoloured with age but had otherwise remained surprisingly intact. On one occasion, when I asked why she . . .

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