Do you speak Maré Tèt? Its history and meaning

children's caribbean scarf

The headscarf tie, also called Maré tèt , is one of the elements that constitutes the traditional West Indian outfit. This popular fashion accessory was once intended to fight back against colonial laws prohibiting freed black women from wearing a hat. Behind this Caribbean headdress hides a hidden message that only black women and men could understand. Find out its meaning.

What is a Maré Tèt?

To begin with, Maré tèt appeared in dwelling houses during the colonial period. Originally, they were simple white toques, imposed on black women by their mistresses.

At the time, wearing a simple, drab turban to protect your hair from the heat was revolting. Instead, women had the idea of ​​enhancing their beauty by wearing madras, a pretty fabric with geometric patterns from India.

The Maré tèt is the traditional hairstyle of the West Indies, very practical to cover your hair on all occasions. Tying your scarf with a pretty fabric allows you to harmonize your outfit from head to toe.

Behind the Maré tèt hides a meaning

In the West Indies, there are headdresses, also called “heads”, with one, two, three or four points. At the time, the way of tying his turban revealed points or knots with hidden meanings. Indeed, according to the number of points, we could know if the woman wearing the headdress was a heart to take or already married:

  • a point: heart to take,
  • two points: my heart is taken,
  • three points: woman already married,
  • four points: my heart is taken, but you can try your luck.

Tèt tide peaks

The different Maré Tèt

In addition to pointe shoes, there are also other ways to wear the Maré tèt . For example, the kept women of Martinique wore an original headdress called a Matadore , a headdress adorned with jewels given to them by their men.

Caribbean headdresses are multiple and original. All have a name, for example:

  • the calendar
  • Boiler
  • the liberal
  • the independent
  • the breaker
  • nofrape
  • sailing in the wind
  • the zambo (the headdress for women displaying their political ideas)
  • the Creole head (or head of the cooks)
  • the fan head.

All these headdresses are made in madras, except those for young girls and mourning outfits.

How to attach your Maré tèt quickly?

The art of tying the scarf is a tradition that continues to this day. Here is a quick and easy way to tie a turban . The twist technique is one of the easiest and fastest for those who don't have time to do their hair.

But before proceeding, you must provide yourself with a sufficiently long cloth (1m to 1.5m in length), clean and ironed. Preferably, choose a fabric about 50 centimeters wide, to be sure that the turban completely wraps around your head. Here's how:

  1. tie your hair in a bun
  2. take your rectangle fabric
  3. place the turban at the level of your neck
  4. pull both ends up
  5. make a twist with both ends
  6. roll her up like a snail
  7. wedge the end of the cable into the turban

To each Caribbean headdress its traditional outfit

madras dress Credit: Dodyshop

High in colour, all Caribbean headdresses are matched with a traditional dress. Each Creole outfit had its own meaning. In the West Indies, there are several types of traditional outfits.

The Great Robe

This long dress is made in a colored or shiny fabric such as silk or satin. A pretty high-end outfit often associated with a turban of the same shade, a white petticoat and gold jewelry. The Grand'robe is generally worn during important events such as a baptism, a wedding or any other traditional celebration.

The Comforter

La Douillette is an exotic floral cotton dress combined with a petticoat. This is worn on a daily basis.


La Titane is a loose dress worn by Martinican courtesans. It consists of an embroidered shirt highlighting the bust, leaving the shoulders uncovered.


The “ Ti collet ” dress or dress with a small collar is worn by young girls aged up to 20 for certain occasions (baptisms, weddings, Sundays).

After the age of 20, the young girl had to wear the “ Collinette” . A long dress consisting of a fitted bodice with a long skirt. Unlike the Ti'collet dress, the neck and bust are exposed.

Madras in West Indian culture

In 1685, the Black Code stipulates that masters must give slaves two silk garments per year or 7.52 meters of fabric. At the same time, freedmen often set up as dressmakers or tailors. This is how Creole fashion appeared, the fruit of social and cultural mixing.

Liberated black women don't hesitate to wear their gorgeous outfits to show off their beauty . Among their creations, there is a wide variety, including the dresses mentioned above.

Madras appeared in the West Indies when slavery was abolished in 1848. A fabric from Chennai, India, brought by British traders. You should know that real madras is made with banana and cotton fibers.

The threads of this fabric were not very resistant, while leaving a particular smell. This is why banana threads were mixed with cotton to be more resistant, before it became the main material of madras.

The bright red, yellow and green colors go perfectly with black skin. The madras is anchored in the Caribbean culture and is worn on all occasions (parades, weddings, communions, baptisms...). Most often, the madras is decorated with white lace.

Even if it was born at the time of slavery, the madras inherited the dress tradition from African fashion. In contrast, the madras is associated with traditional West Indian attire . Gradually, fashion spread to the West Indies (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana, Jamaica, etc.), first affecting white women, then black Caribbean women.

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1 comment

Très bel article. Merci pour certains termes oubliés


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