Clothes , food and religious taboo

Amal Chatterjee
10 min readJan 28, 2017
Source : Google photo

It is quite interesting to study the evolution of clothes, food and religion in different parts of the world over a long period of time and it is still ongoing.

The humankind descended from our ancestor called Lucy whose skeleton or parts of it was found in the rift valley in Africa purely by chance and established the fact that we all are Africans no matter where we live today in this planet called earth.

The humans migrated from their place of origin to many parts of Europe and Asia a very long time ago and adapted to the climate and food they found. The marker chromosome is still found in various people living in different parts of the world and proves that eventually they migrated to coastal areas where they could find food from the ocean and stayed but others moved on to other parts.

Some crossed the Bering straight where the water level was lower than what it is today and exposed a land bridge that brought them to Americas from where they spread to all parts. Wherever they went and settled, they felt the need to adapt to the climate and the source of food so over a period of time they formed their unique identity and called themselves Europeans or Asians. The genetics was working overtime during all this time so people shed their pigments in harsh cold climates of Europe and kept most of it where the climate was very hot and people were exposed to the sun all the time.

The fundamentalists hate Darwin and his book on evolution because they can’t imagine Lucy to be the mother of the humankind but leave them aside for a moment and focus on what we do know about us.

It tells us that the Africans did not feel the need of clothes due to the hot climate where most live and wore only muchas to cover their genitals that some even today use no matter how much the pressure from the white missionaries.

Women were bare breasted because the breast was and still is not considered something to be ashamed of and do not feel the need to cover up. If you go to Mali and other parts in Africa, women still go about bare breasted and cover only their legs with a sarong and girls in villages still go about wearing only a mucha which is to cover the genitals and nothing else. Some wear grass skirts but only during festivals. The definition of modesty in African villages has a very different meaning than in other countries.

When the African slaves were transported to the Caribbean islands like Haiti, they brought with them their culture, their clothes and their habits that continue even today. Haitian girls think nothing of stripping nude in public and bathing in streams. No one gawks and looks with disapproval except the missionaries but what do they know? They have been gawking and disapproving everywhere and have forced women to cover up from Hawaii to Africa and even in the jungles of Amazon. Only they can’t gawk at nude women in Bondi Beach or in Copacabana because they will ignore the missionaries to their utter frustration.

The clothes are definitely a function of the climate. The colder the climate more the need to cover up, warmer the climate more the desire to shed clothes. This is quite natural and has nothing to do with modesty which is an invention of westerners who take it upon themselves to decide how a woman should dress.

Now if you go back several thousands of years, you will find Neanderthals living in caves in France and elsewhere who hunted whatever animals they could find and used the skins to makes their clothes. At first it was a crude attempt to fashion clothes out of animal skins but it protected them from harsh winter weather. Later they developed great skills in making very attractive and fashionable clothes out of leather when they learned how to tan the skins and made beautiful moccasins to protect their feet. The Native Americans were and still are masters in this craft.

Today the climate still decides how much one must cover up so North Europe that has long harsh winter makes people shiver even when they are completely covered up. But if you go down south to the Mediterranean where the climate is mild in winter and lovely during summer, all the beach resorts are booked solid in summer. There you will see the north Europeans, Russians and others happily shedding their clothes often leaving nothing to imagination.

Source : Google photo of a Kashmiri girl

Now let us move on to Asia where you will find a wide variety of clothes people wear that are very colorful as a well as practical. Within India women have a great variety of clothes and styles to choose from. Some wear lovely 6 yards of material called sari that come in myriad of colors, material and design over a petticoat and short blouse while others in Rajasthan wear a colorful lehanga which is a skirt of ankle length and a blouse. They have a scarf to cover their heads.

In Punjab women wear shalwar , kurta and a dupatta which is gaining widespread popularity in India and overseas because it looks very nice and is practical. The shalwar and kurta has many variants so each region has its own style and design. The Kashmiri women wear very decorated and embroidered Shalwar and Kurta and jewelries like in Rajasthan.

The clothing has evolved in India over long period of time judging from the sculptures of Khajuraho when women wore practically nothing except jewelries to what it is today. The sari wrapped over the head in some parts came as a protection from lookers who at a certain period made it their business to kidnap and sell beautiful women so women hid their faces this way.

Men still wear clothes that are plain but comfortable. Dhoti as a garment is just a plain white piece of cloth worn over under clothing and is very practical. You can wear dhoti and squat without any problem but try to do it with tight pants on and you will want to wear dhoti too. Later the British brought their style of clothes to their colonies all over the world so people started wearing western clothes that are unsuitable to the climate in most parts and uncomfortable to boot.

People still wonder why they have to strangle themselves with a tie and why women have to wear tight bras that constrict. There was a time in Europe when women wore what can be construed as scandalous clothes that exposed most of their breasts like in the courts of Tsar or in England, Germany and Spain making Alexandra very uncomfortable in the Russian court. She came from a more orthodox and puritan background in Germany.

The Puritanism that followed the early white immigrants to the United States still pervades in their society so a woman who breast feeds in public is still shown disapproval but these puritans have been steadily losing ground in their fight to keep women modest. You only have to go to any beach in southern California where women wander around wearing next to nothing and ignore the puritans just like the Bondi girls. There is less social pressure to conform.

Now we will examine the evolution of clothes in the Middle East where there was a time may be several thousand years ago when women wore gorgeous clothes and jewelries especially in Afghanistan that was a part of Maurya Empire. They say that Gandhari was a princess from Kandahar which proves that they were Hindus. She played a major role in the battle of Mahabharata but that is another story may be I will write someday.

Source : Google photo

Then came a harsh religion born in the desert of Arabia called Islam. They say that the desert people cover up completely because of heat and sand storms. Their loose garments are cooler and very comfortable prompting Lawrence of Arabia to wear it. But they also say that the desert people are horny most of the time so they get very excited if they see any woman who shows any part of her body.

So their religion made a few strict rules regarding female clothing. They must cover up and wear hijab that has only two holes to peep out of. This must have been tough on women who before the advent of Islam were so free to wear what they liked. Were men less horny before Islam? I don’t know but the fact is that these edicts of Islam have a profound effect on how women dress.

I have seen Malian women in Sikasso wearing black hijab of synthetic material in the sweltering heat while other women go bare breasted. A particular branch of Islam is harsh on women while women in other Moslem countries like Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia wear what they like. They cover their heads with a scarf which looks very nice. In Algeria where I used to work, women wear a cream colored or white silky veil with only one eye uncovered.

But the evolution of clothes continues. Now the Hollywood movies are shown in many countries with traditional values like in India where young women have started to wear blue jeans and tee shirts. In the Philippines where women always have a head start on fashion, they wear shorts that are so short that it redefines the word. Low cut blouses showing a good deal of breast is also worn. They have discarded the more prudish Filipiniana dresses they inherited from the Spaniards in favor of skimpier clothes and only wear traditional clothes on special occasions.

The import of second hand clothes that sell for a fraction of the cost of new clothes has also an impact all over Asia. Poor people can’t afford highly priced clothes so they prefer cheaper second hand clothes.

Food and its evolution :

Now let us talk about food that is just as important as clothes perhaps more so. The evolution of food from the days of Neanderthals and even before has taken a very long time to come about and has not stopped. Many tribes in Africa still do not like to do agricultural work and prefer to hunt for food although hunting in many parts is severely restricted. The Zulus were cattle herders just like the Masai and Matabeles and used the cattle for meat milk and hide as they still do. But gone are the millions of cattle and immense grazing lands so they live with just a few heads of cattle, goat or sheep and try to supplement their food with what their women grow near their villages. The food growers are mostly women who use hand hoes but men help in plowing and harvesting.

They eat only what they grow so the choice is rather limited. They do raise few self supporting chickens in their villages if they can keep the foxes out but in general their food is mostly what they grow. The smoked dried cat fish is popular because it keeps but stinks to high heaven. It is not for the sensitive nose but the Africans don’t mind because it is a source of protein. They do not have spices and aromatic herbs that the Asians are spoiled with.

In Asia people are really spoiled when it comes to food. They have been experimenting over thousands of years with new recipes and new herbs and spices that they grow in abundance. Remember that the Europeans learned about spices when they came to Asia and started sending shiploads of it back home where they sold it for the price of gold.

The Asian immigrants who settled in England and elsewhere brought with them the food and the spices so now you can find Asian food in many countries. The Vietnamese and Chinese are masters in their own right and prepare delightful food although they also eat rats, spiders, snakes and dogs that may make you squirm. Man is truly omnivorous and will eat anything.

In India the import of Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine recipes during the Mogul period enriched the food so now it is widely used. The biriyani was once a royal food but now even I can cook it in the Philippines although I am no cook.

The coastal people are fish eaters because that is what they catch. Inland people eat meat because fish is not available everywhere although that is changing now because frozen fish and meat is being shipped by air and land to all parts. You just have to pay the price. The Africans did not invent dry fish or smoked fish. Just visit any market in the Philippines and you will know which section sells it by the stink of it.

One can write a great deal about food in many countries but I am no expert on food so I will limit myself by saying that the food is still evolving. People in Bengal now like to eat chow mien albeit the local version although it was not known a few years ago. The internet has zillions of recipes for those who like to cook.

The religious taboo on food :

This topic is really not about religion but the role religion plays in what people eat and what they do not. I have mentioned earlier that religion like Islam has a profound effect on food but many other religions dictate what people should eat and what they should avoid.

Most Indians are vegetarians which is a carryover from the Buddhist period so they will not eat anything other than vegetables although I know a few vegetarians who eat eggs. Moslems will not touch pork and Hindus will never eat beef. Jews also ban certain food I am not sure which and Moslems will not eat any meat that is not halal.

Christians will eat practically anything or will try anything because there is no taboo although Americans prefer certain food and the Europeans have their own tastes which some may say peculiar like horse meat in Germany and cheese with fungus in it in France.

In Japan the whale meat is sold in the market where they will fry it for you to take home while in other countries like Cambodia they munch on fried crickets and spiders and say it is delicious.

So in conclusion I can say that the climate and religion both strongly affect what people wear and what people eat. If you want to be a deviant, you can only do so at your own risk.



Amal Chatterjee

I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.