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Why Did the Women of the Portuguese Family Wear Turbans When They Arrived in Brazil?

A turban is a type of cloth headwear that comes in different styles and variations. These are often worn by Sikhs and are part of their identity. But did you know that turbans were a fashion trend in the 1800s? 

In the 1800s, royal families and aristocrats from Portugal traveled to Brazil to avoid Napoleon’s armies. They contracted lice on the ships shaved their heads. The women wore turbans to hide their baldness, which sparked a fashion craze in Brazil.

Portuguese Colonization of Brazil

Pedro Álvares Cabral, a Portuguese explorer, set sail in March 1500, intending to repeat the famous Vasco De Gama expedition in the previous years. Cabral could not mimic De Gama’s voyage, but his trip accidentally led him to Brazil since he sailed too far west.

Portugal claimed territory over Brazil through the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. The name of the country was first published on a 1511 map. It was thought that the name might have been derived from a type of wood common in the forests of Brazil, commonly called Brasa, which literally translates to dark redwood. The Portuguese then set up their first settlement at Sao Vicente in 1532.

Hundreds of Portuguese traveled to Brazil and established several colonies, and in 1549, the country was named an official Crown colony, establishing its capital at Salvador da Bahia. The colonizers then set up vast fields and grew sugar cane. In the following years, the settlement became the largest producer of sugar.

Along with sugar, Brazil also exported gold. It was known that the country produced no less than 18,000 kilograms of gold annually. It exported the dyes extracted from the brasa redwood trees Brazil was rich in. The land was filled with enslaved Africans. These enslaved people were often brought to work in the land’s vast sugar cane and crop fields.

Brazil remained a Portuguese colony until it declared its independence in the 18th century, as the American Revolutionary War inspired many Brazilians. Their autonomy was hastened when France invaded Portugal in 1807 during the Napoleonic Wars. Many Portuguese royalty and aristocrats scrambled to get to Brazil to evade Napoleon’s invasion. (Source: World History)

Why Did the Portuguese Royal Women Wear Turbans?

Dom João, the Crown Prince of Portugal, sailed into Guanabara Bay to evade the destruction brought about by the Napoleonic Wars. The prince traveled with the Portuguese royal family. They were later joined by Portuguese aristocrats who were fleeing from Napoleon’s troops as well.

The crown prince and his wife, princess Carlota Joaqunia, were onboard the old and overly-crowded ship, Alfonso de Albuquerque. Due to the overcrowding and lack of proper sanitation, the travelers experienced a lice infestation. The noblewomen aboard had no choice but to shave their heads to get rid of the lice. They eventually had to discard their wigs. Their bald heads were treated with bald fat and sprinkled with antiseptic powder to eliminate the lice that were on their scalps.

Unfortunately, the women’s hairs weren’t fully-grown upon their arrival in Rio de Janeiro. This resulted in the noblewomen wearing turbans. When the locals saw the noblewomen wearing turbans, they assumed it was the latest fad in Europe. The locals began shaving their heads and started wearing turbans to imitate the Portuguese royals in a short period. (Source: Words Without Borders)

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