Facts From My Fiction: Tignon

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Photo by Sharon E. Cathcart

As you know, I was in New Orleans two weeks ago to conduct research for Bayou Fire.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel where the first draft is concerned, but I wanted to see some plantations, historical homes, etc., so that I could add some rich detail to the story.

One of the places I visited was the Cabildo.  Once the seat of government (in fact, the Louisiana Purchase was signed in the Great Hall), it is now a museum.  The exhibits provide information about Louisiana history, and display artifacts that give us a great look into everyday life.

One of the items on display is a tignon (TEE-yone).  Women of color, whether free or slave, were required by law to cover their hair with these wraps.  Free women of color often tied them in decorative ways (Marie Laveau was reputed to tie hers so that it had seven flame-like points), or attach jewels and feathers to them so that they were more like exotic turbans.  They could be made of any material, but were most commonly made from cotton madras like the one in the photo.

Writing about 1830s New Orleans has meant learning a great deal about restrictive laws aimed at Black people.  Even the free people were subject to these laws, such as the tignon requirement.

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