The Twisted Tignon

Between the 1620s and the 1840s, more than one million Africans were trafficked from Africa to the Caribbean to be used as slaves in American colonies. The Portuguese, the Brits, and the French were the largest slave traders.

how Africans were shipped as cargo aboard ships

Africans were forced to cross the Atlantic packed into the ship as if sardines in a tin. Their travelling conditions were so bad that many died at sea. Although most of the French slaves were sent to the Caribbean, many were sent to the port city of New Orleans. Here the French adapted Code Noir which provided the slaves with some protection. But that radically changed in 1763 when the French were forced to sign over their control of Louisiana to Spain.

The Spaniards obliterated the Code Noir. They wanted to make sure that the Blacks knew their place and had no possibility of social mobility even those who’d obtained their freedom. Plus these hot blooded Spaniards were afraid that Black women were too beautiful and beauty gives a woman power. So in 1786 the governor of Louisiana passed the Tignon Law prohibiting Black women from exposing their hair in public. A tignon (TEEN-yon) is a cloth that’s wrapped in such a way as to cover the hair completely. The word “tignon” appropriates from the French “chignon” (hair bun).

And, as most slaves wore scarves to keep their hair up while working, wearing a scarf was an indication of social inferiority. But it was also meant to distinguish light skinned Blacks from white women.

But these Black women turned an oppressive law into a celebration by transforming the tignon into a crown of glory. They used fabulous fabrics tied with ornamental knots to create their tignons that were further personalized with charms, feathers, brooches, etc. In this way, fashion was used to make a statement: these women had no intention of being obliterated by an insidious colonial government.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and Lady Elizabeth Murray

Royal Navy officer John Lindsay was a real playboy type. After capturing a Spanish ship, Lindsay discovered a beautiful slave girl kept in chains. He freed her and took her as his concubine. The young woman’s name was Maria Belle. She gave birth to John’s child, Dido Elizabeth Belle, Dido after the mythic African Queen.  Eventually Lindsay married a sociably acceptable white wife. It was awkward having Dido around so she was sent to live with Lindsay’s wealthy uncle, William Murray, living in Kenwood. Here Dido grew up with an orphaned cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. The two young ladies enjoyed being together in their luxurious setting although the race distinction had clearly been made. Dido, for example, was not allowed to dine with the rest of the family. Nevertheless, Murray must have loved them both for he was the one who commissioned their portrait together.

For over 100 years the painting was not only wrongly interpreted, it was attributed to the wrong artist. Its true origins finally came out thanks to BBC’s “Fake of Fortune” research team.


Related: The Tignon Law + AFRICANS IN FRENCH AMERICA + The Tignon Law: How Black Women Formed Decor Out of Oppression + Tignon Law: The Attempted Oppression of African Beauty + Tignon Headwrap Tutorial video + Turbans, Voodoo, & Tignon Laws in Louisiana + The Black Woman’s Forgotten Fight against the Laws that Banned her Hair + French Slave Trade + Slavery in France +

The history of British slave ownership has been buried: now its scale can be revealed + 1778 – DAVID MARTIN, PORTRAIT OF DIDO ELIZABETH BELLE LINDSAY AND LADY ELIZABETH MURRAY + Lady Elizabeth Finch-Hatton + Dido Elizabeth Belle + Dido, African Queen +

My ancestors profited from slavery. Here’s how I am starting to atone for that + Direct ancestors of King Charles owned slave plantations, documents reveal +

Armaments for the Daughters of Zion: The Puritan Woman and Her Spiritual Authority over the Physical World  PDF +

Tignon Tutorial: 4 Quick & EASY Headwrap/Turban Styles +

About Art for Housewives

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1 Response to The Twisted Tignon

  1. Yvonne says:

    So very interesting!

    Yvonne?? ________________________________

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