Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Tignon Law (origin of Gele)


 The Tignon Law (origin of Gele)

The Tignon laws of the 18th century were laws that banned black women from exposing their natural hair in public. 

 Their hairdos was obscuring the status of the white women and this threatened the social stability. The law would control colored women “who dressed too elegantly..” Resembling today’s West African Gele, a tignon is a type of head-covering. 

It is a large piece of material wrapped or tied around the head to form a kind of turban concealing the hair. Tignops were worn by free and slave Creole women of African descent in Louisiana from 1786.  

Historically, their prevalence was as a result of sumptuary laws passed in 1786 under Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró. These prescribed and enforced appropriate public dress styles for women of color in a white-dominated society. 

Hence, they were made as a way of regulating the appearance of black women in the U.S. During the period, when black enslavement in America was at its peak, and places like New Orleans was unique in its high population of gens de couleur libres (free people of color), black women’s beauty and features often attracted white men who approached them as suitors. 

 This enraged white women who perceived them as competitors. Evidently, African women competed openly with white women through elegant dressing, including adorning their textured hair with gems, beads, and other accents that made them stand out from white women and possessing great beauty.

 To take care of this perceived menace, series of sumptuary laws birthing the Tignon Law were put in place in order to stop white men from pursuing and engaging in affairs with women of colour, “while also being a class signifier,”

While the Tignon rules were put in place to maintain "social stability," they actually served to undermine the social agency of black women, forcing them to adhere to white standards of propriety. 

 An interesting point not often mentioned is how these women subverted the oppressive intent of the laws. Instead of being humiliated by wearing tignons, many black women turned the head-wraps into fashion statements.

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