Kangas are large cotton cloths that are worn by women living along the whole of the East African coast, especially in Kenya, Tanzania and on the island of Zanzibar.Their characteristic feature is a short text printed on the cloth. The texts are often funny. They reveal some ' home truths', or they may tell something about the wearer's political opinion, etc. The TRC collection contains many examples of these garments, and in late 2009 / early 2010 the TRC mounted an exhibition on the subject. Below is a blog written by Kate Kingsford, now from Leiden, who is particularly fascinated by kangas and over the years has made a large collection of these marvellous garments:
"Shopping for kangas in Tanzania is always a very social activity. As I searched through the piles of kangas at the market in Moshi, Tanzania, the shopkeeper made tea and helped me decipher the layers of meaning in the messages. My favourite: “Mimi ni pweza mambo yangu hayatoweza”. Literally, this means, “I am an octopus, you can’t mess with my affairs”. Several local women passing the shop were happy to explain why they might wear it - as a warning to another woman who was flirting with your husband, or a way of telling a neighbour to stop spreading dangerous gossip, or perhaps to tell your mother-in-law not to interfere with your family.
Kangas are a way of saying the unsayable, and always open to interpretation. But the Tanzanian elections are only a month away, and political kangas are much less subtle. Fatuma, the shopkeeper, was happy to sell me a dress in the bright red and blue of Chadema, the opposition, but was adamant that I wouldn’t find anything in the colours of CCM, the ruling party for the past fifty years. A little further into the market, however, I came across one small shop decked out in green and yellow, offering discount prices on CCM kangas. A lot of people have bought CCM kangas and Chadema dresses, apparently, but no one is wearing them in the streets; while there is still a chance that the elections will be violent, it’s better to wait to see who wins before flaunting political affiliations. “Keep it for after the election!” warned another woman at the market. Walking home, I followed her advice and wore the octopus kanga with pride.
Kate Kingsford, 20 September 2015