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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Kanga: popular cloths with messages
Author:Linnebuhr, Elisabeth
Periodical:Matatu: Journal for African Culture and Society
Geographic term:East Africa
Subjects:female dress
Abstract:'Kanga' are colourful, message-bearing cloths worn by women in many parts of East Africa. The messages, which are in Swahili, the lingua franca, touch on important spheres of life: social and ethical norms, sex, religion and politics. Despite changing fashions, 'kanga' have retained their form since the 19th century. They are rectangular-shaped and measure about 150 cm in length and 110 cm in width. This article discusses the different ways of making use of the 'kanga', the sayings which are preferred, depending on social status and the occasion, and the themes of the message-bearing cloths. In order to explain the flourishing of 'kanga' clothing, the article considers the spread of cotton fabrics in East Africa in the 19th century. It also describes the design and production of 'kanga' and their emergence in Zanzibar. Since the mid-1980s the tradition of the 'kanga' culture has been threatened by competition from secondhand clothes from Europe. They are disappearing from the public sphere and, with them, an important means of communication. Notes, ref.