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Islamic Dress


Religious identity was also preserved in the dress some men and women managed to keep. Job ben Solomon's portrait, realized in London in 1733, shows him posing in a white turban and a white robe. What he was really wearing were Western clothes, but he had insisted on being represented "in his own country dress" which he described to the artist. Bilali, the patriarch of Sapelo Island, was said to always wear a cap that resembled a Turkish fez. Portraits of Omar ibn Said show him with a skullcap and buttoned up jacket; he sometimes sported a white turban. The centenarian Yarrow Mamout of Maryland, who had bought his freedom back and who prayed in the street, is immortalized in an 1819 painting very well covered in coat and hat. And, as their grandchildren recounted in the 1930s, some Muslim women enslaved in the Georgia Sea Islands wore white veils.

By rejecting the crude, degrading garments handed to them and by wearing the clothes that had signaled that they were Muslims in Africa, some of the men and women who labored on the American plantations were affirming their cultural, personal and religious identity and integrity. They were reclaiming possession of themselves and their bodies, which was a rebellious act in slavery since those bodies were paid for and legally belonged to the slaveholders.

Yarrow Mamout