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The Mentawai Future: Modern Clothing

Although it is still possible to see a tattooed shaman wearing a traditional loincloth, most people in villages now obey the “dress code.” Pants, shirts, and T-shirts have become the norm as both Christian and Islamic leaders extol their belief that seeing flesh is sinful. To attend the free government classes, children must wear a uniform that represents government-imposed hierarchy on what was once an egalitarian society. Once in school, the children are taught that only primitive people wear loincloths or bear traditional tattoos and that “civilized” people wear shoes. No police are needed to enforce these “laws;” people who don't comply are simply ostracized by other members of the community.

Issues of “civilization” are irrelevant to Mentawai clothing. Loincloths are the only clothing adapted to life in the rainforest and have been worn for thousands of years by jungle inhabitants around the world. Long, heavy pants get wet easily, restrict movement and make leeches difficult to detect and remove. Cheap cotton shirts rot right off the body within a few weeks, often resulting in skin diseases and an unnecessary financial burden for families who must buy new ones regularly. Shoes not only form a barrier between feet and the feeling necessary for traversing the jungle, they also quickly become sodden and mud-filled, making walking difficult. The traditional clothing of the Mentawai has survived because it long ago passed the tests of time and practicality.

Enjoy "Walking Barefoot in the Jungle"



Challenges the Mentawai face:
Introduction: Change or Vanish
Social Structure
Modern Clothing
Costs of Relocation
Inappropriate Housing
Malnutrition & Epidemics
Fighting Back


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