Wrap Battle: The Gele Takes On Downtown Chicago
By Jasmine Browley
Neo-soul powerhouses Erykah Badu and India Arie exposed them to mainstream America. They have been referred to as turbans, “kufis” and just plain old head scarves. The accurate term however is “gele.” This term originated in Nigeria, used to describe the bright and beautiful head coverings adorned by the women of the Yoruba tribe. The wraps were meant to be worn high and wide to proudly display the color shape and style in a unique fashion. However, as time went on, the aesthetic of the head wrap took on a new meaning. During the time of slavery in North America, head wraps became an emblem of sub standard socioeconomic statuses. Female slaves were expected to wear the head wraps to cover their hair, not for practical purposes, but to signify their low value as a black woman. These in fact, were not “geles” at all. They were mere scraps thrown to the slave women, specifically to shield their mane of glory.
This preconceived notion has been handed down from generation to generation, and has especially manifested in the psyches of present day African-Americans. The “gele” has been seen as a taboo subject with Blacks for quite some time. In response to this, Sandria Washington of Chicagonow.com and Madame Pilar Audain-Reed, owner of Kreative Soul Boutique, organized a two-part event this past Saturday that was devoted to dispelling the negative connotation associated with Black women and
head wraps that took place.“We organized this event to celebrate the natural beauty of women; that a woman can be sexy without the usual pretenses. When a “gele” is worn, it makes the woman exude confidence,” Washington stated. The event was a two-part series that included a workshop instructing the proper way to build a “gele,” and a photo shoot devised so the women could display their “Tower of Power.” This portion was especially important. Audain-Reed elaborated by stating, “ The thing that I find most startling is most women’s inability to rock a head-wrap publicly, despite their innate desire to do so…it is primarily fear based.” It is a well-known fact that most corporate settings often frown upon ethnic centered garb. This often perpetuates that fear that Pilar Audain-Reed spoke of. She poignantly points out that the decision to flaunt one’s ethnicity is often a difficult one because it is misunderstood and thus frowned upon by mainstream society. “ As a former Infectious Disease Epidemiologist for the Mayor’s Office of HIV/AIDS Surveillance, I knew that coming in off the street for the big interview was not the time to rock my “gele” to the ceiling…so I waited and waited. Then, being the stellar employess that I am, I would rock the gele once a month, then once a week, etc…until my headress was no longer viewed as a threat to professionalism, not merely a head adornment rocked by a talented sister! Lets hope that Ms. Audain-Reed and Ms. Washington can convince more women to wrap up their heads and eventually loosen their hold on fear.
For more information on the “gele” workshops and other events, visithttp://www.facebook.com/messages/sandria.washington and http://www.facebook.com/pilaraudainreed