Kanga traditional attire – Kanga, also called Leso in Kenya, is an African print fabric that originated in East Africa and is worn majorly in Swahili-speaking countries, including Tanzania and Kanga.
Some histories show that the Kanga traditional attires were imported into Tanzania by Muslim Women in Zanzibar and Mombasa, Kenya.
In Mozambique and Madagascar, you would commonly see men wearing the Kanga traditional attire as opposed to how you see them being frequented by the women in Tanzania and Kenya.
In some places, you would commonly see the Kangas being interchanged with Khanga.
The fabric is made with 100% cotton, is rectangular, and has inscriptions of a Swahili proverb at its lower border. Because of its small size, it is mainly used as a head wrap or worn as a sling for carrying babies.
The Kanga fabric is worn by women in East Africa for special events such as birthdays and weddings. Just like the African print fabrics – Kitenge or West Africa’s famous print – Ankara wax, Kangas are colourful, thin and lightweight than the former fabric types.
Kangas are also similar to Kikoy and Kishutu which are commonly worn by the men in these regions.
The kanga traditional attires we detailed in this post are some of the ways through which the Kanga fabric can be modified to create other stunning styles of outfits and not only the wrapper styles.
Women wear modern kangas that bear a saying, usually in Kiswahili as a form of non-verbal communication between people, especially between women. The proverbs in the cloth relate details on politics, the educational system of the country, a person’s religion, health, and financial status.
Some of the Swahili proverbs that are added to the kanga designs include:
- Akili ni mali which means “Wits are wealth“
- Adui mpende which can be translated as “Love your enemy“
- Usinisumbue meaning “Don’t bother me“
- Kulekeza si kufuma – “To aim is not to hit“
- Mtaka yote hukosa yote – “One who wants all, usually loses all“
- Sina siri nina jibu – “I have no secrets but I have an answer“
- Usijaze masusu kwa mambo yasokusuhu – “Do not fill your mind with things that do not concern you” or “Do not get involved in matters that do not concern you“
- Bahati ni upepo sasa upo kwangu – “Luck is like the (blowing of the) wind, now it is on my side“
How to Wear Kanga Attires
There are lots of ways to wear kangas although the traditional method is by wrapping the kanga cloth across the shoulders and over the head like a shawl.
Other methods involve wrapping the kanga attire around the waist, fastening it as a baby carrier, wearing it like a beach towel to mark Africa’s cultural heritage, and modifying the fabric into dresses, tops, skirts, capes, swimsuits, belts, or headgear.
Another important use of the Kente African print wax is their use in making curtains, mops, towels, aprons, and tablecloths, and is really handy to take to the beach.
A special kind of kanga called “kisutu” having white, black and red colours are worn by the bride and guests to traditional Swahili weddings. The bride may be gifted this fabric as part of her dowry.