African Textiles – the role of the Kanga

Making and trading cloth has been vital to african life and culture for at least 2000 years.
Textile patterns, materials and means of production can reveal much about a particular moment in history. Textiles may also chart the movements and migrations of people over a much longer period. They tell not only of trade within the continent, but also of Africa’s long engagement with other parts of the world.
Textiles offer a means of recording significant events, or of communicating important political or social information.

The Kanga

In the late 1800s a Muslim woman of Zanzibar – or perhaps Mombasa – sewed six square, printed handkerchiefs (lenço) into a modesty garment. This was the very first Kanga, now worn as a garment by many millions of women in Eastern Africa.
In Africa today, both imported and locally produced cloth is more widely used than ever before. There are many different types of cloth and Kanga is just one example. Machine-printed Kanga are often produced locally, whereas in the past they were mainly imported from Europe, india and the Far East.
Kanga have bold designs and inscriptions in the Swahili language. They carry messages about health, politics, religion and sexual relations.
Today Kanga are regarded by many people in Eastern Africa as symbolising modern Swahili culture.
Some examples of Kanga inscriptions:
  • “Don’t be boastful…have you been checked?” (for HIV/AIDS) from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania 2002
  • “Give a gift for this Eid” (the festival at the end of Ramadan) from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania 2003
  • “Commemorating the life and mourning the death of Julius Nyerere, 1922-1999, the father of independent Tanzania” from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania 1999

Per approfondimenti: British Museum

2 Responses to “African Textiles – the role of the Kanga”
  1. lissette hoarau ha detto:

    I am told it was the Indian community who imported and designed and inscribed the fabrics for the african markets in the early days and also now,. A friend of mines family used to send kanga prints to Japan to have them woven and printed.


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