|Swahili gift "Khanga" transgresses boundaries|
by Martin Shardow
NAIROBI, July 21 (Xinhua) -- It was just a cloth that came with the emergence of slave trade along the coastal line of East Africa, but its revolution and esteem put it on the map of Africa's lifestyle.
The Leso or Khanga as it is commonly known (wrapper or shawl worn around the waist ), is no longer much of a fashion statement in
Nonetheless, even today, any African women strongly attached to her culture must wear a leso as respectable attire at some point, especially during important social festivals. So how did this legendary piece of clothing come to influence African fashion for so long?
Incredibly, the origin of the Khanga (leso) was in the nefarious slave trade. Female slaves in the 19th century had to be "adequately" clothed before being transported to the
The Merikani, another expensive cloth worn by high-society ladies, was supplied from
Block printing was the next progression, as patterns chiseled into cassava and sweet potatoes were imprinted onto the cloth. These, therefore, became the hallmarks of the Khanga.
As women wearing the colorful fabric gathered in the groups and chattered in the evening breeze of the Zanzibar sea-shore, men likened them to East Africa's ubiquitous guinea fowl (black and white dots resembling a guinea fowl) -- "Khanga" in Swahili -- with its brightly coloured spotted plumage.
Emancipated female slaves from the East African coast and
After the socialist revolution in
The general presentation of the Khanga has improved with time. Text messages and proverbs are among its most recent additions.
This development was pioneered by the famous Hajee Essak family, who originally came from
The sayings are not just decorative. They have profound meaning both to the wearer and viewer. A typical one goes" Mama ni mama hata hawe nani" (a mother is a mother whatever else she may be).
Historically, such inscriptions solved the communication barrier in a culture where women were not heard or seen publicly. They gave a voice to the voiceless.
Interestingly the cloth is not worn in
Seyyid Barghash who ruled
The Khanga has not entirely escaped the onslaught of modernization, both in its material and message. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester have been employed in its production and it is now common to see political, religious and social messages written on it.
Even portraits of powerful leaders have found their way onto its material. The hard face of Ernesto "Che" Guevara -- the famed Latin American communist revolutionary -- is seen on many fashionable Khangas in
Other notable faces include the felled South African liberation movement activist Steve Biko, Mau Mau war hero Dedan Kimaathi and Agustinho Neto, the Angolan poet and revolutionary.
Spreading far and wide from its heartland in
As Christed De Wit, a leading researcher of early forms of fashion in East Africa, notes in her book Evolution of Fashion in