Title

Speaking Through Proverbs: The History of East African Kanga and the Women Who Wear It

Abstract

Identity and power are two things created and exuded through fashion choices and modes of dress throughout not only Africa, but also the entire globe. When looking to Africa to examine the connection between fashion, power, and identity, various art forms are identified as being key ways that the various peoples are able to create and perform identity. None more so important that the East African kanga, especially when looking at post-abolition Zanzibar. After the abolition of slavery in 1897 in East Africa, there was a great movement of freed slaves into the urban areas of Zanzibar, wishing to search out ways to shed their identity as slave and assume the identity of Zanzibaris. Around this same time, the East African kanga was gaining popularity for its bright bold colors and relative ease of access. This factory-made textile has helped people of different ethnicities, religions, and class come together to create a unique identity known as Zanzibaris. The kanga has especially become important to women because of its ties to initiation, wedding ceremonies, and their own voice, which is often denied to them.

I argue that while the East African kanga has given women a somewhat acceptable mode of voicing their opinions and frustrations, it by no means has ‘empowered’ them within their social structure. By looking at the history of the East African kanga and the society in which it has helped to create a new unified identity, the islands of Zanzibar, a clearer picture of how the kanga helps them to create and perform identity within social and political structures that limit the amount of power women can hold.

Start Date

15-3-2013 2:50 PM

End Date

15-3-2013 4:15 PM

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Speaking Through Proverbs: The History of East African Kanga and the Women Who Wear It

Olscamp 101

Identity and power are two things created and exuded through fashion choices and modes of dress throughout not only Africa, but also the entire globe. When looking to Africa to examine the connection between fashion, power, and identity, various art forms are identified as being key ways that the various peoples are able to create and perform identity. None more so important that the East African kanga, especially when looking at post-abolition Zanzibar. After the abolition of slavery in 1897 in East Africa, there was a great movement of freed slaves into the urban areas of Zanzibar, wishing to search out ways to shed their identity as slave and assume the identity of Zanzibaris. Around this same time, the East African kanga was gaining popularity for its bright bold colors and relative ease of access. This factory-made textile has helped people of different ethnicities, religions, and class come together to create a unique identity known as Zanzibaris. The kanga has especially become important to women because of its ties to initiation, wedding ceremonies, and their own voice, which is often denied to them.

I argue that while the East African kanga has given women a somewhat acceptable mode of voicing their opinions and frustrations, it by no means has ‘empowered’ them within their social structure. By looking at the history of the East African kanga and the society in which it has helped to create a new unified identity, the islands of Zanzibar, a clearer picture of how the kanga helps them to create and perform identity within social and political structures that limit the amount of power women can hold.