Yet another kind of robe became an institution—the "robe of honor"—which was developed most fully in the Muslim world for designating and formalizing a variety of important relationships. It circulated in special ways, being ceremoniously awarded from one individual to another in order to confer authority, seal alliances, and publicly proclaim official ties and positions. Already in ancient times, rulers in parts of Asia had personally bestowed valuable garments on their followers as a sign of special favor. The prophet Muhammad reportedly did this as well, which set the precedent for the robe of honor—khil'a, in Islam. Muhammad's successors, caliphs of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, wore robes of office that were identifiable by their embroidered borders. The khil'a was patterned after these official garments. During the Abbasid period, production and distribution of honorific robes expanded—especially under the rule of Harun al-Rashid (786-809), when thousands of them flowed into and out of his treasury. A distinctive feature of the robe of honor was the type of imagery embroidered along its border, which included signs, symbols, or epigraphic inscriptions referring to the reigns of specific rulers. Such robes were ceremonially bestowed by many people in a variety of contexts—patron to client, scholar to student, merchant to merchant—thereby encouraging a sense of loyalty among individuals who otherwise might differ according to their ethnicity, religion, language, social class, profession, or family group. Circulating robes of honor became, therefore, an effective social and political tool for creating solidarity within the cosmopolitan cultures of Islam.
The example of the Sokoto caliphate (1804-1903, became northern Nigeria) shows that robes of honor were influential in other ways as well. Over the century of its existence, this Muslim state grew to be the largest polity in West Africa, and it impressed Europeans with the quality and volume of its cotton textile production. At least some of this achievement can be credited to the robe of honor tradition and how it was subsidized and encouraged by the caliphate's leaders and elites. Intent on bringing about an Islamic revival, they promoted, among other things, the manufacture and circulation of flowing robes with a distinctive pattern of motifs embroidered in silk along the neck and pocket. They were instantly recognizable as caliphate robes, and the imagery signified divine protection and good fortune. Favorable taxation policies encouraged merchants to set up spinning and weaving workshops, while officially supported Quranic scholars managed the work of hand embroidery. As in the Abbasid period of classical Islam, robes were brought into the central and emirate treasuries in large quantities as tribute and spoils of war. They were then redistributed, as a mark of military achievement or appointment to office, and as a gift to honorable allies, subordinates, and foreign visitors. In 2004, similar robes were made in Nigeria for sale in the market, though most of these were embroidered by sewing machine.
Many robes and robing traditions are no longer being made or practiced; fortunately, some have found their way into museum collections. As objects of study and exhibition display, they remain richly rewarding in their new role as documents of cultural and social history.
See also Religion and Dress; Royal and Aristocratic Dress. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Brinker, Helmut, and Hiroshi Kanazawa. Zen: Masters of Meditation in Images and Writings. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 1996. Masterful catalogue of the art and culture of Zen.
Cammann, Schuyler. China's Dragon Robes. New York: Ronald Press Company, 1952. Classic study of the history and variants of the dragon robe.
Country Life: Coronation Number. London, June 1953. Facsimile edition, June 2003.
D'Harcourt, Raoul. Textiles of Ancient Peru and Their Techniques. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974. Invaluable description and technical analysis of major Peruvian archaeological textiles. Gordon, Stewart, ed. Robes and Honor: The Medieval World of Investiture. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Excellent edited volume containing cross-cultural case studies of robes and robing ceremonies.
Kriger, Colleen. "Robes of the Sokoto Caliphate." African Arts 21, no. 3 (May 1988): 52-57, 78-79, 85-86. Case study of the robe of honor in a nineteenth-century West African caliphate.
Pollack, David. Zen Poems of the Five Mountains. New York:
American Academy of Religion, 1985. Reske, Henry J. "Showing His Stripes." ABA Journal 81, no. 3
(March 1995): 35. Stillman, Yedida Kalfon. Arab Dress: From the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times. A Short History. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000. Excellent synthesis of research on Arab and Islamic dress.
ROMA AND GYPSY Roma is the Romani word used to refer to Gypsies, a label that has pejorative connotations. Since many Roma use the term Gypsy with outsiders, and there are contexts in which Gypsy is the broader term, its use is still applicable in certain settings and certainly appears in literature as well as search engines. In Europe and the British Isles, terms such as Romanies, Travelers, or Tinkers are also used. Many different groups form the Roma population based on a common sense of belonging, although they may have very diverse characteristics and call themselves by different names.
Roma live in the United States, South America, Europe, Russia, Middle East, North Africa, and North and Central Asia. Some have migrated to Australia, Hawaii, and Alaska as well. The Roma migrated into Eastern and Western Europe in the fourteenth century through Persia en route from India, which they left approximately 1,000 years ago. Since leaving India, Roma have always lived within another culture or country as a minority and pariah group. They have been subjected to extreme discrimination and persecution throughout history, especially in Western and Central Europe where they were enslaved in the Middle Ages. Between 500,000 and 600,000 European Roma perished under the Nazis in World War II. In the nineteenth century they migrated to North and South America where they continue to be a nomadic or semi-nomadic group.
Roma in the United States are estimated to range between 100,000 and 300,000 members of various groups (such as Vlach Roma, Boyash, Irish Travelers, and Hungarian Roma) living in all parts of the country. Estimates of Roma in Europe are between 4 and 10 million, with the largest numbers concentrated in Central European and Balkan countries (as much as 5 percent of the pop ulation). Different groups have taken up various occupations, including music, metal work, buying and selling horses or cars, fortune-telling (primarily women), and selling craft items. Middle-class Roma have entered the professions, but in the early 2000s this was still a relatively small group.
Roma trace descent through both parents but take on patriline names and have a patrilocal marriage preference. Authority is based on age, with both older women and men enjoying a high status. Men are powerfully situated in the system of juridical authority, and women hold power through the complex system of religious, spiritual, and medical authority. Roma have no religious specialists other than older women, but they use clergy from local churches to conduct baptisms. In the United States their own religion is punctuated by certain rituals, including the baptism of a six-week-old child, marriage, the pomana (death ritual), slava (Saint's Day feast) and some American holidays, such as Easter and Thanksgiving.
In the United States, Roma generally live in urban areas, usually on main streets and in the poorer parts of towns. They are not as easily recognizable to the American population as they are in Europe, where they stand out more. They often prefer to represent themselves as a member of an ethnic group other than Roma since it abates the stereotyping and discrimination against them. One of their survival mechanisms is to keep to themselves and avoid contact with non-Roma except in work-related circumstances.
The Roma wear clothing that reflects their religion, customs, and ethics. Many Roma, both men and women (but not children), treat clothes worn on the upper body separately from clothes worn on the lower body. Upper and lower body clothes may be washed separately as the lower body is considered "impure," and it is desirable not to "pollute" the upper body. The head in particular is protected from impurity. Hats worn by men and scarves worn by married women are kept away from any surface (such as the seat of a chair) or other clothes that touch the lower body. In addition, men's clothes may be kept separate from women's clothes, and women's skirts are considered dangerously polluting to a man. Women must wear a skirt long enough to cover their legs at least to the mid-calf. Items (such as dish towels) that are used with food are also given particular attention to purity.
During ritual occasions, the Roma often purchase or make new clothes to wear. New clothes have never touched anyone's body and therefore are guaranteed to be pure. A Saint's Day feast, wedding, or pomana (death ritual) are occasions when special pure clothing is desirable. During the pomana, a living person representing the deceased is dressed in new clothes and is called "the wearer of the clothes." This person stands in for the spirit of the deceased who is thought to be watching the pomana to make sure the relatives are displaying the proper respect for the dead.
The presentation of self through dress and fashion is very important to the Roma and part of their public performance as Roma. Roma fashions do change over time and place. Furthermore, fashions for men and women seem to be based on different criteria. Whereas men dress to present an image to the outside world that they associate with power and authority, women dress to present an image to the Roma that is associated with Roma ideas of the power of purity and pollution.
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