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The Why Of Whites – Clothing That Is

The Why Of Whites – Clothing That Is April 14, 2016

Statue of Obatala in Bahia. Courtesy of wikimedia.
Statue of Obatala in Bahia. Courtesy of wikimedia.

Many are immediately impressed by the attire of the Afro-Diasporic traditions. A sacred sea of multi-colored bodies covered in pure white is a stunning and impressive visual treat to see. White clothing is not limited to the Haitian Vodou Religion, Umbanda, Candomble, or Lucumi (Santeria,) many different religions from Druids to Christians understand, and appreciate the ritual nature of white dress.  The sanctity of white is immediately apparent. It’s use functions on many different levels. It is a challenge to remain clean, and this is blatantly obvious to anyone who has ever put on whites. The clothing itself has often reminded me of it’s delicacy.

In Lucumi  (Santeria) the custom is to morifibale to your seniors in the tradition. Your body lies and turns on the ground in front of the elder to receive a blessing and to offer respect. In this tradition the clothes are symbolic of the Orisha Obatala, the King of the White Cloth. There are many patakis, or ritual myths, about how he needed to understand cleanliness, and humility through this clothing choice. One popular story tells of how he took a journey to visit his son, King Chango. Despite several mishaps along the way, where he was dirtied, he decided to continue . When he arrived, he was mistaken for a beggar and jailed. The story shows how important it is to maintain your appearance and reputation, and to listen to the warning signs when they are given. The book Santeria by my late friend Luis Nunez, describes Obatala as “Obatala is the supreme divinity on the terrestrial plane. He represents such a refined purity, that it cannot be described through words or songs. He is reason and justice and all that is moral. ” It is these qualities that come to light when the white clothing is employed.

Umbanda photo by Aline Scaravelli. Licensed under CC 2.0
Umbanda photo by Aline Scaravelli. Licensed under CC 2.0

Everyone’s experience with wearing white as part of a ritual is uniquely different, and oddly similar. I asked a few Afro-Diasporic practitioners what the process felt like for them:

“The first time I wore whites was for my headwashing. Getting clothes for that ceremony and using those clothes only in ceremonies allows me to enter the headspace for a ritual. It makes me feel more open and connected to the moment. Wearing whites also makes me feel more connected to the other participants. We’re all united in this spiritual moment and that’s reflected in what we’re wearing. The whites I have now are the ones I wore when I was first initiated. I feel the echo of that magic whenever I put them on. I feel cleaner, lighter, and more serene.”

“The rather simple act of dressing in all white physically and subconsciously effects the world around you. For me the white symbolizes purity of mind, open to receive the blessing of the ritual ahead. ”

There is a lot more to be said about white clothing than I can cover in this blog post, so stay tuned for more on this topic. In the meantime, please let me know about your feelings, and impressions about wearing white ? Do you wear ritual white in a tradition other than those mentioned here? Please leave your thoughts and comments below, and remember to share, share, share!

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