The disappearing Sikh turban: Sacred symbol, shorthand for terror
“When you see a turban and beard, what is the first thing you think of?” is a question Sikh Coalition’s Amardeep Singh often asks his American audience. The typical answer is: A terrorist. “We’ve had 11 years where the turban is equated with terrorism,” he tells The Guardian,“Is our community an intentional victim? … No, we’re collateral damage.”
Blame it all on Osama bin Laden who made infamous the turban and flowing beard, transforming the sacred symbols of Sikhism into a visual shorthand for Islamic extremism.
“I own a gas station. I am working there. People, they call me Bin Laden. Then I explain to them: sorry, you are misunderstanding. You are mixing us up with the Muslims. You try to explain about the turban and the beard. They still call you Bin Laden,” says Oak Creek resident Jeji Shergill in the Guardian article.
We don’t know as of now if Michael Page believed that the Oak Creek gurdwara was a mosque, or that he was killing Muslims. But there’s no mistaking the link between anti-Sikh and anti-Muslim bigotry in Oak Creek and the rest of the world. From Edinburgh to New York to Paris to Delhi, Sikhs have been routinely harassed and often killed for looking Sikh.
This knee-jerk bigotry has been blamed for the disappearing turban, which is in the danger of becoming extinct, both in India and abroad. Closer home, the first giant wave of visits to the barber shop were sparked by the anti-Sikh riots in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination:
“There were widespread human rights violations. Young men with turbans or with Sikh names were more vulnerable to being picked up and thrown into illegal detention. Many Sikhs cut their hair and discarded their identity to escape police brutality,” said Ishwinder Singh Chadha, a member of the Institute of Sikh Studies. “In the 1990s, turbaned Sikhs were caricatured in TV shows and movies, and young Sikhs lost pride in their identity.”
The pressure to assimilate was no less in the West, where anti-immigrant racism has long been a problem, which redoubled in the wake of 9/11 due to anti-Muslim hysteria. From trouble with airport security to racial slurs on the street, the turban became a burdenattracting all kinds of unwelcome attention.
Add to the mix a global popular culture that devalues all forms of traditional attire as uncool. “They’ve adopted bad European habits: fast food, pubs and clubs,” says historian Patwant Singh in The Scotsman, “There is this terrible, misplaced urge to merge with the rest of the world.” The result is a new generation of Sikhs that has little time or interest in protecting the holy kesh.
While there are no exact figures, less than 20 percent of men under 30 now have uncut hair, as do nearly half of all Sikh men. So we now Save the Dastar efforts which include a World Turban Day, “Smart Turban 1.0″ CD-ROMs, Turban Tutor 1.0 software, dastar tying clinics, and even a beauty pageant for uncut sardars suitably labeled Mr Singh International.
“I owe my career to my dastar. I won the Mr Singh contest in 2007 and have since acted in television serials, modelled in a hundred-odd shows and also acted in one feature film. If I’d cut my hair even by mistake, my career would have collapsed,” Jitender Singh, a newsreader with a UK Punjabi news channel, tells Outlook magazine.
In a world obsessed with fame, appeals to narcissism often succeed more often than religious sentiment. So it is that young sardars are flocking to dastar camps to re-learn the lost art of tying a turban.
Saving the turban may not, however, preserve the sacred locks they are meant to protect. The dastar may well become just an accessory to be worn at will — long hair or not. “If you want to make an impression in Punjab, you still have to wear a smart turban. Be it to impress a would-be spouse, at weddings, or even for a job interview,” says Jaura Nagpal, owner of the Jaura Dastar Academy.
The irony is that the images from Oak Creek — of devout Sikhs in their distinctive headgear — represent a dwindling creed. Succumbing to the twin pressures of bigotry and modernity, the turban may well become a relic of the past, thereby erasing the troublesome association with terrorism. Sikhs may be safer in the future, and a whole lot poorer for it.
The Binirayan festival (“Binirayan” literally means “where they sailed to”)is an event celebrated in the province of Antique in the Philippines.
The festival opens with a fluvial parade from the pantalan (port) to Malandog Beach in Hamtic, believed to be the original settlement of the Bornean datu. In Malandog is a historical marker commemorating this legendary event.
And so this is where we are.. in the historic Malandog Beach.
Traditional Foods from the Philippines
Suman is a rice cake originating in the Philippines. It is made from glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk, and often steamed in banana leaves. It is served wrapped in buli or buri palm (Corypha) leaves and usually eaten sprinkled with sugar. Suman is also known as budbod in the Visayan languages which dominate the southern half of the country.
There are numerous varieties of suman, with almost every town or locality having its speciality. Some are described below:
Sumang Kamoteng Kahoy (Cassava Suman), wrapped in banana leaves.
Binuo (or Suman sa Binuo) - A rare variety of suman, the glutinous rice is soaked, milled, mixed with coconut milk and sugar, wrapped in the leaves of the Tagbak plant, and steamed. The leaves give this variety of suman a uniquely balmy, minty flavor, and the suman itself is chewier than the whole-rice varieties.
Suman sa Ibus - An ubiquitous variety of suman in the Philippines, the glutinous rice is washed, and is then mixed with salt and coconut milk. The mixture is poured over pre-made coil containers of young palm leaves called Ibus or Ibos, and fixed with the leaf’s central shaft. This is then steamed using water mixed with “luyang dilaw” (turmeric) - giving it that distinctly yellow colour - and served either with a mixture of shredded coconut and sugar, or latik - (reduce coconut milk until white lumps form and simmer until golden brown).
Suman sa Inantala - The ingredients are similar to the Ibus variety, but the Inantala differs in that the mixture itself is cooked, and then poured over a small square mat cut from banana leaves.
Sumang Kamoteng Kahoy - Cassava is finely ground, mixed with coconut milk, sugar, wrapped in banana leaves, and steamed.
Suman sa Lihiya - Soaked glutinous rice mixed with coconut milk is treated with lye, wrapped in banana leaves, and boiled for two hours. It is served especially with either of two varieties of latik - the brown one which has been darkened with extended cooking, and has a stronger coconut flavor or the white one which is more delicate.
Sumang Wilmacale - Cassava suman of more solid consistency, sweetened with brown sugar and cocojam, steamed in banana leaves and served skewered.
Suman wrapping is a unique art in itself, and can be traced to pre-colonial roots which have had contact with Indian traditions. Wrappers utilize a wide variety of indigenous materials such as palm, banana, anahaw and bamboo leaves, coconut shells, and others. Some wrappings are simple folds such as those found in the binuo and the kamoteng kahoy, resulting in rectangular suman. Others are in vertical coils like the inantala, giving it a tubular form. Still others are in pyramid-like shapes, like the balisungsong. Some forms of suman are eaten like ice cream–with cones made from banana leaves, and still others are in very complex geometric patterns like the pusu (“heart”). Some are woven into the shape of a banana blossom (which in the Philippines is referred to as the banana plant’s “heart”), or the pinagi (from the word pagi, meaning stingray), a complex octahedral star.
Decorative Dentistry in Pre-Colonial Philippines
The idea that only wild animals had white teeth was widespread in Southeastern Asia. Human beings were thought to be distinguished by cosmetic refinements like filed and stained teeth.
The Visayans called tooth filing sangka, leveling, and it was done by an expert with a slender stone file, who sometimes removed half the tooth in the process. Variations included opening the space between teeth, or grinding them to saw-toothed points, but the desired effect was always to render them even and symmetrical. This involved correcting or obviating natural misalignment, and the reduction of those eye teeth so suggestive of fangs or tusks.
Once filed, the teeth were colored in different ways. Regular chewing of anipay root made them black, or the application of a tar-based coating called tapul gave them the appearance of polished ebony, and probably had a preservative effect. Red lakha ant eggs were used to color teeth—and kaso flowers, both teeth and fingernails—a deep red, an effect heightened and preserved by habitual betel nut chewing.
The most impressive examples of Visayan dentistry were its goldwork. Gold-pegged incisors were noted by Pigafetta in Lamasaw and by Urdaneta in Lianga Bay, and plenty of beautiful specimens have been recovered from archaeological digs. Pusad was the general term for teeth goldwork, whether they were inlays, crowns, or plating. The mananusad was the dental worker, a professional who got paid for his services. As the Sanchez dictionary (1617, 434v) puts it, “Pilay sohol ko nga papamusad ako dimo [How much will you charge me for gold teeh]?”
Halop, covering, included both plating held on by little gold rivets run through the tooth, and actual caps extending beyond the gum line, also secured by pegs. Bansil were gold pegs inserted in holes drilled with an awl called ulok, usually in a thumbnail-shaped field that had been filed into the surface of the incisors beforehand. If they were simple pegs without heads they looked like gold dots on ivory dice when filed flush with the surface of the tooth. (Si Awi, king of Butuan, had three in each tooth.) But if the pegs were tack-shaped, their flat heads overlapped like golden fish scales; or if round-headed, they could be worked into intricate filigreelike designs similar to beadwork. Of course, this goldwork was considered all the more effective if displayed on teeth polished bright red or jet black.
Such dentistry figures in the epic literature of Mindanao: a common image is the flash of golden brilliance when the hero opens his mouth to speak or smile. A lyrical passage in the Manobo Ulahingan describes how it is highlighted by the blood red of a chew of betel nut:
He then picked up
the ready-made mema’an [quid].
Tenderly he pushed this through
His teeth artistically designed,
Gently he pressed it in between
His molars with lovely pattern.
There is nothing you can see
Except the flashing of crimson…
No need to be surprised!
Because what is sparkling
Are his shining gold-crowned teeth,
What is glittering all over
Are the shining empenetek [caps] (Masquiso 1977, 183).
Source: Barangay: 16th Century Philippines Culture and Society by William Henry Scott.
Statue of Rajah Sulayman (1558-1575) of the kingdom of Maynila.
The plaque reads:
The Muslim ruler of the kingdom of Maynila (now Manila) who refused the offer of “friendship” by the Spaniards - which actually meant the loss of the freedom of his people. He fought the Spaniards under Miguel Lopez de Legazpi twice in 1570 and 1571, resulting in the burning of his kingdom. On the second battle, the battle of Bankusay on June 3, 1571, Rajah Sulayman perished with 300 of his warriors.
The statue can be found in Rizal Park along with other notable people.
(Source: Flickr / adogcalledstray)
George Rodger, The victor of a Korongo Nuba wrestling match is carried shoulder high by his opponent, Kordofan, Sudan, 1949.
“But?!?! I Can’t Be Racist Because…” [SHORT FILM]
“But?!?! I Can’t Be Racist Because is the first short film brought to you by theliberatedzonetv to commemorate the 47th anniversary since Malcolm X’s assassination.
“But?!?! We Can’t Be Racist Because…” touches on the issues in a day-to-day and global context of white supremacy in order to try to open up the in-depth discussion and understanding that we need so desperately.
Is racism a thing of the past?
Are white people victims of racism too?
Do you feel uncomfortable/awkward when white people emulate Black culture?
Does Black culture ‘belong’ to everyone?
Does suffering in Africa have nothing to do with people living in Europe?
Are YOU aware of how you fit into the white supremacist structure enforced by imperialism?
CAN WE SPEAK OPENLY AND HONESTLY ABOUT RACISM?
Please use this as a resource and the comments by co-producers Shamim Kisakye, Iman Hussein and Lizzie Phelan in education establishments, youth and community groups and amongst your friends in order to open up the discussion about the modern day manifestations of white supremacy.
If you would like co-producers Iman Hussein, Shamim Kisakye and Lizzie Phelan to come and discuss this film in a community or institutional setting, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
This film was made with NO funding. To support further work like this please donate via www.lizzie-phelan.blogspot.com