Tuesday, April 1, 2014

To wear the dress or to not wear the dress, that is the question.....

When one works in the activist world the topic of  cultural appropriation comes up sometimes. This is about people taking on things from other cultures because they look cool or neat. Often things or objects are taken from minority cultures by dominant cultures and are used in inappropriate ways without regard to the feelings of the people who usually use them.
I do think about this. I know for certain that it will never be appropriate for me to have an Aboriginal Jingle dress made for myself and to wear it in a healing dance no matter how beautiful I think that they are.

So, when  I came to Iraqi Kurdistan and fell in love with the beautiful fabrics in the bazaar and the traditional jili kurdi that are made from the cloth,  I was cautious about thinking about having a dress made for me.

I  Googled  cultural appropriation and found an article by Jarune Uwuwjaren called The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation. here She states, "That’s what cultural exchange can look like – engaging with a culture as a respectful and humble guest, invitation only."

Even before I read her article I knew that things were OK here with my Kurdish friends and me.  The first time I went to my friend Nishtiman's house for the Nawroz picnic the whole family invited me to wear an extra dress they had. It was my first experience with wearing the elaborate dress that Kurdish women delight in wearing. I did get extra attention due to my sneakers I wore on my feet. High heels are much more usual attire, but my size 10 feet did not fit any of the sister's shoes.

Since then I have attended weddings dressed in my usual skirt and blouse and have been told politely that wearing a Kurdish dress would be so much nicer. And last year my friend Gul and her daughter Nishtiman gave me a gift of some cloth to create a dress for myself. I did need to find the shiny fabric for the bloomer type underwear as well as other cloth for the long over coat. But Nishtiman introduced me to her seamstress who quickly  sewed  these for me in time for this year's Nawroz celebration.

That does not  include the beautiful green dress and shiny vest that Hershu, the wife of our team mate, had waiting for me when I returned to Sulaimani this time. So this Nawroz I had two dresses to choose from and one to lend to a team mate.

The final clincher for me was when a group of us visited with relatives of our Kurdish friend Rezhyar. His grandmother sat with us at the picnic and looked at two visitors who did not have Kurdish clothes. She said, "if only I had known you were coming and that you did not have jili kurdi. I would have brought you some so you could have some too".

I believe that we show respect and honour for the Kurdish culture by wearing the clothes that they love to wear.



  1. I like the green dress -- what's the part that goes underneath? the bloomers?

  2. Well said. The first photo looks rather like an advertisement - not sure for what though. :) With the mountains in the background, the two cars framing the sides and you two sitting centred in your dresses, it somehow hits me that way. Lovely photos.