Asia Bangladesh Travel

Modesty and the Orna


The Orna. It’s a long piece of cloth worn over the chest, as well as a head and shoulder covering here in Bangladesh. All women wear it in some way – and it always looks perfectly placed on them.

Before this trip, I read an article by a female journalist who had lived in Dhaka. The piece was all about her and her Orna. While she didn’t wear the traditional “shalwar kameez” (baggy pants with tapered ankles and a long loose top over them) she did embrace the orna and wore it each day.

The orna’s purpose is to disguise the female form. It hangs in a u-shape across the chest then loose over the back of each shoulder. The journalist wrote of her constant battle with her orna – finding it lopsided, falling off one shoulder or trailing along in the dirt behind her. I read this and thought, “hasn’t she heard of a safety pin?”

A woman in Joyramkura with a beautiful orna

So, full of “I’ve got this orna business” and armed with safety pins, I donned this long piece of material across my shoulders and chest. Easy, right? Wrong! “Just pin it,” she said. Easier said than done, standing in darkness thanks to a blown fuse, trying to reign in this unruly fabric that kept sliding all over the place. I am convinced it had a mind of its own! I spent that entire first day tucking and readjusting my orna as it kept flicking back over my shoulder. Even my son tried to keep it in place for me!

Orna 1. Sonia 0.

The next day I tried to gather it up more when I pinned it. Several stealthy stalkings of other women in Dhaka revealed a possible hint… Pin it behind the shoulder! That seems to minimise the slippage but I still do not look as natural and composed as these women do. Something to aspire to, perhaps?

Some lovely locally made ornas I bought from Caritas here in Mymensingh, less than $4 each

Maybe I just need more practice. Fortunately we have another four days here in Bangladesh, so another four days with my orna.

Safe Travels
x Sonia x


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