A Sarong by Any Other Name

Moon & Stars Sarong
Moon & Stars Sarong

The Many Names of Sarongs

We know that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Would a sarong by any other name be as beautiful and useful?

 

We’ve talked about some of the many uses for a sarong or pareo. Perhaps you’re wondering about the countries where these versatile garments are used, and the different names they are known by.

 

When you hear the word “sarong,” you may picture a beautiful Balinese woman wearing one. Sarongs are worn in many countries, from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Southeast Asia, to parts of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In some places the rectangular lengths of fabric are worn by both men and women. Malaysian men wear their checked-pattern sarongs only when attending Friday prayers at the mosque. Women in Malaysia wear theirs every day. Arab fishermen in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean also wear sarongs. In Sri Lanka, sarongs are traditionally worn only by men and mostly as casual dress at home, since the culture views them as a sign of the lower classes.

 

The word sarong derives from a Malay word meaning “sheath.” The sarong is the traditional clothing of Java and the Malaysian archipelago, where it is wrapped around the body and tied, usually at the waist.

 

In different cultures, sarongs are called by different names.  In certain parts of Africa, sarongs worn by men are termed “kangas;” those worn by women are known as “kikois.” In Saudi Arabia, one hears the name “izaar;” in Oman, they’re known as “wizaars.” In the south of India you might hear the term “mundu,” referring to sarongs worn at religious ceremonies. The better-known name for a sarong in India is “sari,” which means “strip of cloth” in Sanskrit. Saris tend to contain more fabric and be tied differently than the Southeast Asian sarong.

 

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s bestselling novel, Unaccustomed Earth, the title story’s protagonist speaks of her Indian mother owning 218 saris. That does seem like a lot. But when you consider the many different colors, designs, fabrics, and patterns, well, it still seems like a lot. Then compare it to the number of shoes some women own. Okay, we admit it. 218 is a staggering number of sarongs/saris. We’d love to hear from readers about the number of sarongs you or your friends own and the different ways you use them.

 

A sarong by any other name is still a comfortable, convenient, beautiful, and versatile cover-up. The possibilities are numerous, and we’ll explore more of them in future blog articles. Watch this space for more great ideas for using your sarongs this summer.

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