African Clothing

Africa’s Clothing Heritage

Africa have something peculiar that distinguishes the continent from other culture of the world, her rich clothing heritage and style. Most of African wears have history dating back to the creation of some wears to symbolize the wearers social status, belief, gender, and religious status. Some of the continent wears was introduced by traders from other part of the world coming into some parts in Africa. Some of these wears were recreated by Africans to suit themselves. We have compiled some clothing peculiar to the Africa continent.

Dashiki: The dashiki is a colourful garment  widely worn in West Africa and also worn in other parts of Africa. It’s a loose fitting garment, V-neckline, often embroidered and It covers top half of the body. It originated from various West African countries. The name dashiki is derived from the Hausa word dan ciki which means shirt. It is usually worn with a kufi cap. Dashiki has made a huge breakthrough from Africa since the African American culture struggles of the 1960s where it became a symbol of affirmation, it stood for ” Black is Beautiful” and signaled a return to African roots. Dashiki is also worn on Kwanzaa celebrations and during Black History Month every February, a time for West Africans to celebrate their heritage. It is usually by both men and women.

Kufi cap: A kufi cap is a brimless short and rounded cap worn by men in many populations in North Africa, East Africa, Western Africa and Asia. It is made with Kente cloth, mud cloth, knitted or crocheted in a variety of yarn. It is also worn by men throughout the African diaspora. Older men wear Kufi to symbolize their status as wise elders and religious people. The Kufi is a sign of peace, mourning, renewal and protection of the mind. African Diasporans wear the Kufi to show thier pride in culture, history, and religion.

Jalabiya: Jelebeeya in Ethiopia, Jehllubeeya in Eritrea is a traditional Sudanese and Egyptian garment native to the Nile valley. It differs from the Arabian Thawb. The Jallabiya has a wider cut, no collar, no buttons, longer and wider sleeves.

Djellaba: it is a berber  long loose-fitting unisex outer robe with full sleeves, worn in the Maghreb region of North Africa. It is made of wool in different shapes and colours. The colour of a djellaba indicates the marital status of the person wearing it. A dark brown djellaba indicates that the person is a bachelor

Grand Boubou: It is a flowing wide sleeved robe worn by men in much of West Africa, and to a lesser extent in North Africa. It is called “agbada” by the Yorubas, called “babban riga”by the Hausa’s  called “mbubb” by the Wolof’s  called “gandora” by the Tuareg’s ,  called ” darra’a” by the Maghrebi Arabic. It is referred to as grand boubou by the francophone countries in West Africa.

Senegalese Kaftan: it is a pullover men’s robe with long bell sleeves. It is worn with matching drawstring pants called tubay in Wolof. Normally made of cotton brocade lace or synthetic fabrics. It can also be worn with a kufi cap. A kaftan and a matching pants is called a Kaftan suit. The Kaftan is worn by Christians, African Jews, Muslims and followers of African traditional religion.

Kanzu: It is a white or cream coloured robe worn by men in the African great Lakes region. it is referred to as tunic in English and as Thawb in Arab countries. It is an ankle or floor length garment. It serves as the national costume of Tanzania. It is also worn in some coastal Muslim regions of Tanzania and Kenya. The men of Buganda in Uganda consider it their most important dress. Kanzu is a Ganda word of Swahilli origun which means robe or tunic.  The Ugandan Kanzu was introduced to the Buganda kingdom by Arab traders.

Kanga: It is a colourful garment worn by women and occasionally by men throughout the African Great Lakes region.

Madiba shirt: It is a batik silk shirt usually adorned in a bright and colourful print. Batik is originally from Indonesia. It has become a well-known  nickname for batik shirts in South Africa, being popularised by former South African president Nelson Mandela and named after Mandela’s clan name Madiba. In 1994, the designer of Madiba shirt presented the hand printed batik to Nelson Mandela’s guard with a note saying ” Thank you for everything you have done and the sacrifices you have made for our beloved country. Mandela wore the shirt the next day to the dress rehearsal for the opening of parliament and was photographed on the page of a local newspaper, and the shirt started trending.

Ethiopian suit: It is a name given in America to the traditional formal wearer of the men in Ethiopia. It consists of a long sleeve, knee-length shirt and matching pants. Most shirts are made with a mandarin, band or Nehru collar. The suit is made of chiffon which is a sheer silk or rayon cloth. A shawl called netela or a kuta is wrapped around the suit.

Kuta: it is a handmade cloth many Eritrean and Ethiopian men use to cover their heads and shoulders when they wear clothing made out of chiffon. Netela is the female version of Kuta

Habesha Kemis: It is the traditional attire of Habesha women. The ankle length dress is usually worn by Ethiopian women at formal events. it is made of chiffon and typically comes in white, grey or beige shades. Many women also wrap a shawl called a netela around the formal dress.

Khamis: It is a Somalian an ankle length garment usually with long sleeves similar to a robe, kaftan or tunic

Koofiyad: It is a short rounded skullcap often worn for religious purposes. Muslims believe that Mohammad used to keep his head covered therefore making it “mustahabb” i.e it is commendable to cover the head in order to emulate him. Muslims often wear them during the five daily prayers.

Africa also have some unique textiles created in the continent asides from her clothing style.

Some of the oldest surviving African textiles were discovered at the archaeological site of Kissi in northern Burkina Faso. They are made of wool or fine animal hair in a weft-faced plain weave pattern. Further cloth fragments and parchment fragments date to the ninth century from sites at Igbo Ukwu of the Igbo people of Nigeria. A considerable amount of cotton and wool textiles (clothes, shrouds and accessories) have been preserved in the Tellem caves in Mali, dating mainly to the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. Some fragments have also survived from the thirteenth century Benin City in Nigeria.

The knowledge of weaving and fabric production has existed for centuries throughout the continent. During the Trans-Atlantic slavery, many skilled weavers were taken, and took their knowledge along with them to North America, South America and the Caribbean.

Some examples of African textiles include the following:

Akwete cloth – woven by Igbo people

Ukara – dyed indigo cloth by Igbo people

Aso oke fabric – woven by Yoruba people

Adire – tie-dye produced by Yoruba people

Kente cloth – woven by Ashanti and Ewe people

Barkcloth – produced by the Buganda tribe

Mudcloth- produced by the Bambara tribe






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