New this week: Kangas from East Africa
When in do your daily life do you get to send a message to somebody indirectly, without worrying about whether they’ll confront you about it? In the presentation “Talking Cloths: Kangas of East Africa,” Nell Koenings and Peggy Hart explain how women in East Africa engage in this kind of communication through fashion.
Kangas are cloths, diverse in pattern and color, that women in East African cultures wear over clothes and on the head. Many are printed with words on a small section—the kanga’s “name.” Sometimes the name will be cordial— something like “Happy Holiday”—but other times they will be thought-provoking (“Don’t travel on someone else’s star”) or even upsetting (“What kind of person you are, that you don’t like your neighbor”).
Kangas are given and received, and also often bought by the woman who intends to wear them, so they are open to a lot of self expression. Many people will try to infer the intended meaning of the kanga’s name based on who gave it or where (and around whom) it is worn. If a woman wears a kanga to send a message to someone she’s spending time with, she may alleviate shyness about sending the message by wearing the kanga inside out or cover the name. This will make it ambiguous whether she wore it in order to send a message or because she liked the pattern. Many kangas are produced on a large enough scale that their name can be identified by men and women just by seeing the pattern. Culturally, it’s considered rude to ask a woman the meaning of wearing her kanga, as well as to ask about the meaning intended in giving a kanga as a gift.
To learn more about kangas, visit our website here and find the presentation in our Latest Videos section, or look for it in our TV schedule. You can also check out the exhibit Talking Cloth: Kangas from East Africa at the Great Falls Discovery Center, on display through February 8.
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Posted: to General News on Mon, Jan 21, 2019
Updated: Mon, Jan 21, 2019