Khanga – clothing for Africa
Bright, colourful, blowing in the wind. Traditional cotton cloths worn by African women and bought by many tourists visiting Africa, the “kanga” (the Swahili word for guinea fowl) is a garment worn mainly by women in Tanzania and east. The khanga has been around for a long time and there are many opinions to its source or where it first started. Zanzibar could be the birthplace as it was a major trading port. But again this is not a proven fact.
The reason they called it “kanga” was probably because the first patterns resembled the plumage of the guinea fowl. Today the designs have evolved a lot and the choice is endless. Most of the khangas are rectangular in shape, usually 1.5 m x 1.0 m in size. Modern designs also have a proverb or riddle written on them which is called “jina” and it basically just means “name”. It is this name by which each particular khanga design is recognised, making it easier to purchase at the shops. These sayings can range from messages of love, prosperity and religion to just random things.
Some examples of the sayings:
Tunaipenda Africa yetu = We love our Africa
Kheri ya Krismas na Mwaka Mpya = Merry Christmas and a happy new year
Mungu ndiye tegemeo letu = We depend on God
Nalidumu letu pendo = Let our love stand forever
Mwembe tayari = The mangos are ready
Khangas are made from cotton and is locally produced in Tanzania and Kenya. Anywhere you go in Tanzania you will find these colorful garments for sale. Tailors throughout the country design and create fashionable clothing and accessories from the khangas and slowly this trend is moving to other continents like Europe where designers use African fabrics in traditional European clothing.
There is also another kind of garment called kitenge, similar to khangas but are made of a thicker textile and it is usually sold in three pieces.
For Tanzanians khangas and kitenges are part of Swahili culture. It belongs to them from birth to death as they always have these traditional garments in their possession. It is also very common to present this to the female members of the family at a wedding. It is also used to carry children or luggage making it quite practical in daily practices.
More than just a piece of cotton, it is literally the fabric of Tanzanian culture.