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What are kanga textiles

Kangas are rectangular-shaped cotton fabrics that are peculiar to the peoples of the Eastern region of Africa, especially Kenyans and Tanzanians. They are usually sold and bought in pairs which have to be cut into two and sewn along the edges before they can be worn.

Kanga,_Tanzania,_2011

They are unique as a result of their peculiar features. For instance, each Kanga is rectangular in shape and is made up of three  distinct markers: Pindo (a border usually on all four edges of the fabric), Mji (set of designs enclosed within the Pindo) and Jina (a Swahili proverb, witty saying, adage, riddle or aphorism etc.)

The fabric derives its name from the spotted African guinea fowl also referred to in Swahili as  ‘kanga’; these dots or spots influenced earliest designs of the Kanga even though innovations and modernity have birthed the emergence of new and improved designs.

Kangas are usually worn as scarfs or headwraps around the head and as wrappers around the waist and shoulders, although more innovative and contemporary women wear them as skirts, blouses or even swimsuits. Some women also use them as baby carriers, aprons, mops and towels.

 

However, these do not in any way diminish the cultural significance of Kangas as they are usually presented as gifts to people during special occasions like weddings, naming and burial ceremonies etc. Since all Kangas come with a message or proverb in Kiswahili, it is believed that a person’s true intentions are revealed by the type of proverb or saying that is printed on the Kanga he or she presents to the recipient(s).

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