Sunday, September 13, 2009

Printing of the Kanga


Kangas have been printed and designed in many countries including, Holland which printed textiles for the African market begining in the 1800's with the Katenge. Kanga designs like the one above were printed in the 40's and 50's and shipped to the Mombasa shop of Mali Y Abdullah.
Department of Cultural Heritage researchers explore
urban stories of the kanga....
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Stories in history......Is it a Lenco or a Leso?


























The kanga also called leso may trace its roots to the handerchiefs embroderied by Portugese girls and given to their lovers before they set sail from the Portugese Island of Maderia, as early as......... The handerchief is in use today and called lenco. Early stories from the kenyan coast describe these squares later printed on large pieces of cloth and used by Swahili women in the traditional Swahili fashion of two pieces nguo mbili, or two cloths.

Sample of the printed square and of the traditional Swahili use of the printed textile called the leso

Stories in history

Is that a kanga?
1927 around Nairobi?
Photo credits: "Old Africa" and the Block collection.


The use of the Kanga is varied through out East Africa, Mozambique, Oman, Coromos Islands, Mali, Angola, Japan......among the African disaporia in the UK, Switzerland, US, France, and more......its history begins at least 100 years ago. Stories of a kanga like cloth of colorful designs began appearing in texts as early as the mid 1800's and are tied to textile production and slave trade across Africa. The most notable early use of the kanga was among the Swahili culture on the coast of Kenya and Tanzania and on the islands of Pemba and Kilifi, major trading ports in the mid-1800's. It is more difficult to establish exactly when the kanga came in-land. Stories are told of wives of slave traders bringing colorful cloths with them from the Congo basin. Less colorful cloths which were worn in Africa from the 1700's were replaced with color and design with wealth and status.

A review of english and swahili literature shows gaps and contradictions concerning the kanga following are several of the more interesting stories.....please add your comments on the history of this cloth!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


The Kanga, a rectangular cloth identifiable by its border designs, central motif and text messages and worn by many communities in a variety of styles remains one of the most popular of all material culture items across East Africa and beyond. The Kanga uniquely embodies culture in its texts, images, and use and provides a common thread within the culturally and ethnically diverse Kenyan society. A study of the rich history of the Kanga celebrates ethnic diversity within Kenyan culture and promotes knowledge exchange and dialogue.

Kangas play positive role after Kenyan violence

Roshini Shah from Haria Stamp Shop in Nairobi has collected kangas and stories for many years. She brings the perspective of the shop owner and trader in the contemporary world of the kanga in Kenya. In this clip she speaks about the use of the kanga after the election violence in Kenya.

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The stories begin......

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At the home of Francis ole Sukuda, below Ngong town in the Rift Valley.

On sharing stories

Dr Peter Wasamba, Kenya Oral Literature Association, University of Nairobi as a resource person for the project gave a guest lecture on the value of collecting and sharing stories and in particular the importance of preserving Kenyan oral narrative research.
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The Thousand Meetings


In July of 2009, the research team of the Cultural Heritage Department, National Museums of Kenya under the direction of Dr. Issak Hussein and with support from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Webster University, Haria Stamp Shop, The Aga Khan Trust for Culture and The British Museum, began collecting stories on the kanga cloth.

This blog will provide space to document the research, identify highlights of the process and encourage viewers to add their own stories.

Join us send your stories and photos!