Swahili Kanga from Kenya

Swahili Kanga from Kenya

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20th-century kanga from Kenya, a cotton wrapping cloth often worn by Swahili women along the East African coast, 164 x 114cm

The exemplar is part of the collection of the Dutch ethnographic museum, the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. The centerpiece - three maize cobs - is surrounded by a frame of red flowers and a writing in Swahili Mtenda akitendwa huwaje on the lower edge of the cloth. These different components contribute to the kanga’s ability to indirectly address topics that women are not supposed to talk about in face-to-face conversations.


  • Finding Women's Voices

    story by Sophie Spickenbom

    In many societies around the world, women have faced stricter boundaries and limitations than men. In the East African context, women came up with their own way to overcome these societal structures. Women wear kangas, colorfully printed cloths imprinted with a short text which often address topics categorized by society as inappropriate for women to discuss in public. In our kanga, a frame of red flowers surrounds the central motif - three sweet corn cobs. In this story, we will attempt to trace the history of this kanga and the voice it gave to the Kenyan woman who once owned it.

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