Swahili Kanga from Kenya

Step 1 of 5

Kanga made in Kenya

Related images

Fig 1: A orange kanga from Kenya discouraging self-praise   - Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen - [TM-5050-15](https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11840/155061)Fig 2: Kanga showing shields and spears   - Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen - [TM-5050-10](https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11840/155056)Fig 3: Especially colourful Kanga - collectie wereldculturen - [TM-5050-2](https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11840/155066)Fig 4: A guinea fowl: the namesake of the cotton cloth - [“guinea fowl: introduction”](https://www.lowimpact.org/lowimpact-topic/guinea-fowl/)

This piece of fabric is called kanga. Our kanga was made in Kenya in the mid- to late-20th century. The Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen has around 70 different kangas in its collection. This one caught my special attention, and it is through this specific kanga that I would like to introduce the way kangas communicate meaning.

The word ‘kanga’ is interesting in itself. I came across two compelling theories concerning the origin of the name of the cloth. Kanga in Swahili means guinea fowl, which is a big bird found in sub-Saharan Africa (Figure 4). One theory states that the first kangas were similar to guinea fowls’ feather coats - white spots on a dark background. Another theory suggests that the name derives from the similarity of a group of women to a flock of birds, as they strut and chatter relentlessly.For the first explanation see David Parkin, “Textile as commodity, dress as text: Swahili kanga and women’s statements,” in Textiles in Indian Ocean Societies](https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203644256), ed. Ruth Barnes (London: Routledge, 2005), 44; for the latter etymology see MacKenzie Moon Ryan, “Converging Trades and New Technologies: The Emergence of Kanga Textiles on the Swahili Coast in the Late Nineteenth Century,” in Textile Trades, Consumer Cultures, and the Material Worlds of the Indian Ocean: An Ocean of Cloth, ed. Pedro Machado, Sarah Fee, and Gwyn Campbell (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 27