Hello on this lovely Thursday! It’s me, Sasha, and for our blog today I’m going to tell you about a special kind of cloth known in most parts of Africa as a ‘Kanga’.
As you know, Rose was born in Kenya, Africa. She grew-up being gifted and gifting kangas to and from friends and family. These cloths are dazzlingly pretty, colorful, and practical. They are used in various ways including as a skirt, dress, head-wrap, apron, pot-holder, towel, and much more. Made from cotton, most kangas are made to the size 1.5-meters by 1-meter with a detailed border that makes each of them unique. Before the modern material printers we have today, the patterns on a kanga were made through resist dying, block printing, or they were simply hand-painted.
Rose wrote a beautiful story about kangas, seen through the eyes of Imani – a young girl from Kenya. The series is called ‘Life with Imani in Kenya’, a three-book series that serves to bring the wonders of the culture of Kenya to her readers. These tales are based on her memories of her own life, and all of them bear a special message – much like a kanga!
The third book in the series is called ‘You Are My Little Sunshine’. This is Imani’s story of her heartfelt relationship with her grandmother who not only gave her a special kanga on the day she was born, but continued to give her kangas at certain milestones and on special occasions. As a story it gets to the heart of the relationship between grandmother and grandchild in the African culture – a beautiful tale that is sure to remind any reader of the role of grandmothers in the family, and their love for their grandchildren.
While a kanga can be used for fashion and practical activities, folks whose culture is deeply embedded within will often use them to subliminally suggest messages to those around them. The meaning of a kanga depends on the patterning and coloring of the kanga, and how it is worn.
Some meanings can include:
~ When two are in love, their enemies can’t hurt them.
~ If you won’t care about me, I won’t care about you.
~ He has promised to love me, I won’t let him down.
~ Everything is alright if you love each other.
~ The body is just a distraction if one does not know the person.
~ When a big tree falls, the little birds are in anguish.
~ Luck is like the wind. Now it is on my side.
~ Do not interpret my silence as approval.
~ We are all passengers, God is the driver.
~ Today is a day for celebrations and ululations.
The historical significance of the kanga in times of cultural or political turmoil is also notable. For example (credit to Margret Anderson):
This covert visual language was also important during Tanzania’s independence movement in the 1960s. Because the British, Tanzania’s colonizers, weren’t aware of the coded meaning in kanga patterns and proverbs, people were able to broadly communicate messages of pro-independence without the fear of being arrested. Msangi explains:
“Kanga was a way for people to communicate directly with others who were part of the independence movement, but [it was] also a way of marking a body with symbols that were pro-independence without the oppressor’s knowledge,” he says. “The fact that women were the population who primarily carried these messages out into the world is also significant, and is a reminder that women are a key constituent in any liberation movement.”
While this excerpt refers to Tanzania, it ties in perfectly with one of the messages from Rose’s book that depicts the importance of women and their role in society.
Well, we hope you have enjoyed our blog today. Indeed many cultures around the world use clothing as a statement of culture, or to portray messages to others in society. Try to imagine a world where one cannot use the spoken or written word to help others to hear their message – it is then that you’ll understand the significance of clothes with a message!
If you have any pictures of kangas you may own, or ideas to share with others on how to wear them, leave your picture and message in the comments on Facebook. We’d love to hear from you!
Until next time, keep shining,
You Are My Little Sunshine