JENMAN African Safaris

Traditional Clothing in Africa

/
/
Traditional Clothing in Africa

Traditional clothing in Africa is dictated to as much by the climate in which they live, as it is by the culture and an individual’s socio-economic standing. Many of the different parts of the continent play home to a different nationality of people, with their own distinct traditional clothing. And while modern times have seen a move away from the traditional dress for many of these people, there is still important in learning more about it and how it informs the culture of the people who wore it. What follows is an exploration of the history of clothing in Africa, and some noteworthy examples of the traditional dress worn in such countries as Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Madagascar.

Traditional Clothing in different African Countries

The people of Africa would have started wearing clothing around 180 000 years ago, most likely due to an Ice Age that gripped the world at that point and developed a need in the people to cover themselves for warmth. These first clothes were made out of animal skins, and took the form of leather coverings and furs, as well as jewellery adornments made from seashells, ostrich shell pieces and feathers.

It is likely that the first kind of cloth on the continent was made from pounded bark fibres. People would peel bark from the trees and pound it with a rock until it was thin and bendable. This produced small pieces of cloth that could be sewn together to produce a bigger cloth to cover the body. This was a widely used practice, and different regions made use of different trees for the bark, with people in Uganda using the bark from fig trees for example. Eventually, they began to dye the bark fibre cloth to produce patterns on it, giving birth to the renowned tradition of vibrant colours and patterns in traditional clothing in almost every part of Africa.

Eventually, by 2000 BC, people have become to weave cloth instead of pounding down the bark fibres. Some wove linen, whereas others wove specific kinds of tall grass. Changes in rulers, access to foreigners and international trade all influenced a number of African countries’ cultures, and by association, their clothes. No matter where on the continent you travelled, however, one thing remained the same: traditional African clothing almost always comes in a variety of styles and vibrant colours and prints. With a history broadly explored, we can now look at a more specific example of different types of traditional clothing in different African countries.

Egyptians

Unlike the other people of the Mediterranean, who traditionally wore one or two big pieces of cloth wrapped around themselves in a number of ways, the Egyptians traditional clothes were nearly always white linen tunics that were sewn to fit them. Barefoot or wearing straw or leather sandals, both men and women wore eyeshadow and lined their eyes with black kohl. The black kohl served to protect their eyes from the glare of the sun. Another important aspect of their dress was gold jewellery, and those with access to it and who could afford it, never went a day without it.

Maasai

The traditional dress of the Maasai varies both by the age of the person wearing it and by their location. Young men, for example, wear black for several months after their circumcision. In the Maasai tribe, red is a favoured colour. Prior to 1960, the members of the Maasai tribe wore calf hides and sheepskins. Thereafter, these animal skin clothes were traded with commercial cotton known as Shúka, which are traditionally worn wrapped around the body. Wooden bracelets are worn by both the men and the women. Wooden weaving and beaded jewellery are an important part of ornamentation for the women in the Maasai tribe, with variations in the colours of the beads holding different meanings: for examples, white signifies peace, blue signifies water, and red signifies bravery/warrior/blood. This beadwork has held a prominent place in the culture of the Maasai, as a means through which they can articulate their identities and position in society.

Mombasa, Kenya African tribe Maasai
Mombasa, Kenya African tribe Maasai

Zimbabwe

The traditional dress of Zimbabwe is colourful and consists of wraparound dresses and headdresses for women. Men don a breastplate made from animal skin. As an added detail, women’s dresses are decked up with beads, and they themselves wear largely sized ornaments – an integral part of their traditional wear which demonstrates the age the status of the woman in her community. Married women wear a blanket, called a Nguba, over their shoulders and a lot of thick beaded hoops of twisted grass called Isigolwani.

They also wear copper or brass rings around their arms, necks and legs, called Idzilla. The animal skin breastplate for men is known as the Iporiyana. They also wear animal skin headbands, ankle bands and a Karos around their shoulders. The animal skin is important in Zimbabwean traditional dress as each Ndebele group associated with a different animal, allowing individuals to outwardly convey their allegiance to their own group.

Mozambique

In Mozambique, the way people dress reflects the confluence of different cultures that are found there, as well as the different economic standing of its individuals. In the cities, men wear Western-style suits for work, while women retain the brightly coloured fabrics of traditional wear, albeit in more Western-style designed dresses. In the rural areas of the country, women retain the wearing of traditions, which consists of long strips of fabric wrapped around the body and over one shoulder. The young people in Mozambique almost exclusively wear western clothing styles, although despite this some popular pieces of American and European have not been adopted, including blue jeans and short skirts. Clothing in Mozambique doubles as a market of ethnic identity, with the Muslims in the North wearing traditional long white robes and head coverings, for example.

Madagascar

Traditional wear on this island off the eastern coast of Africa involves wearing the Lamba, which directly translated, means cloth or clothing. This normally consists of two matching pieces of fabric in the women’s case, and just one for the men. In yesteryear, the Lamba was all that was worn, but nowadays it has been coupled with Western clothing.

Nearly all women in Madagascar will wear a Lamba in the event of a death or another occasion for prayers to the ancestors. This includes during visits to the hospital or doctor, where it is believed that good fortune with the ancestors will have a direct impact upon their lives. The Lamba is an important piece of traditional wear due to its capability of fulfilling a myriad of functions throughout day-to-day island life.

10 Best Safaris in Africa

The ten best safaris in Africa are not just about the journey, but it’s also about the experience of immersing oneself in the diverse and unique natural habitats of the Mother continent. The journey to these destinations is an adventure in itself, as you travel through different landscapes and encounter a variety of flora and fauna. As you travel through the vast savannas and dense jungles, you’ll be constantly amazed by the diverse wildlife that you’ll come across. From majestic elephants trumpeting in the distance to mischievous monkeys swinging from tree to tree, every encounter will leave a lasting impression.

African safaris for seniors

Going on safari may be a thrilling and wonderfully remarkable experience for elderly travelers, which is why our African safaris are ideal for seniors. Seniors shouldn’t be afraid to go on an African safari because, with proper planning, it can be a safe and enjoyable experience. Our safaris for seniors are led by experienced guides who are trained to identify potential dangers and take appropriate action to ensure the safety of our guests. Our guides are familiar with the local wildlife and terrain and can provide valuable insights and information about the area. We take a range of precautions to ensure the safety of our guests, such as providing secure accommodations, keeping a safe distance from wildlife, and using vehicles and equipment that are designed to minimize risk.

Build Your Trip

With the power to specify your travel dates, the number of travelers in your party, and your preferred destinations, we’ve made it incredibly convenient for our travel consultants to curate the perfect expedition for you.

Zambia Safari Packages & Tours

Thinking about taking a SAFARI?

If you live in S.A. there is no excuse not to get out there and go!!  For those of us with friends overseas, we know that taking a safari in Africa is, for some, a-once-in-a-lifetime experience.  So for us, with Africa just outside our doorstep,

Rainforest

Most Beautiful Hikes of South Africa

JENMAN African Safaris has curated our Most Beautiful hikes of South Africa. We’ve included many day hikes that range from moderate to difficult that you can easily fit into your weekend schedule or into your itinerary. For the more serious hiker, we’ve also included an

Madagascar Lemurs

Six Strange Animals to Encounter on Safari

With a world the size of ours, the chances are that there are bound to be a few surprising and even downright bizarre creatures that call it home. Africa is a unique continent with over 3000 languages and an incredible diverse range of landscapes that

Safari Tour Operator

Best Guided Group Tours

These guided group tours with set departures are expertly designed for travellers who want to see the highlights of a country, or in some cases even more than one country, whilst having an exceptional guide provide valuable insight along the way. Guided group tours are often

Need Help?

Get in touch with our experienced consultants, dedicated to curating your ideal African safari. Let us guide you towards the perfect destination, ensuring your trip is nothing short of extraordinary.

JENMAN African Safaris

Stay Connected