The African continent is a wonderfully diverse place with an incredible array of people, animals, and places. Traditional African garb is as diverse as the African continent itself. From the loose-fitting outer robe called Djellaba worn by men and women in North Africa to the bright and colorful Madiba shirts worn in South Africa there is an incredible variety of clothes.
Archaeologist estimate people in Africa started wearing clothes soon after the first homo sapiens evolved approximately 180,000 years ago. This was probably out of necessity due to the start of the ice age and the need to stay warm. These early clothes were usually made from leather or fur. Over thousands of years African clothing has evolved to where it is today. Most of the clothing is beautiful, rich in color and design, and made from the natural resources available to the people.
Materials Used to Make African Garb
Traditional African clothing is made from a wide variety of materials some examples are:
Adire (tie-dye): Made by Yoruba people
Aso oke fabric: Woven by Yoruba people
Barkcloth: Made by the Buganda tribe
Kente cloth: Woven by Ashanti
Kitenge: Made in Kenya and other East Africa countries
Mudcloth: Produced by the Bambara tribe
Traditional African fabric is always hand-made using techniques that have often been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. The patterns and colors are also often deep with tradition. The patterns were often used to distinguish one African tribe or group of people from another.
The Making of African Clothing
The making of fabric was usually done by both men and women, with men doing the weaving and women the spinning and dying. Often the various steps of making fabric had spiritual or religious importance. For example the Dogons believed that each stage of the fabric making process is a symbolic analogy to human reproduction and resurrection. The Dogons also believed that the spinning and weaving of clothes should never be done at night, to do so would weave silence and darkness into the cloth.
Popular African Garb Colors
The following is a list of some of the main colors found in African clothing followed by their meaning to the African people. These are generalizations.
Gold: Gold is an extremely popular color. It represents wealth and fertility.
Red: Red represents tension in the spiritual or political world and is viewed as the color of blood.
Blue: Blue represents love and peace, it symbolizes the sky, and is a harmonious color.
Green: Green represents prosperity and life and is also a medicinal color.
The Africans took the meanings and spirituality of the colors in their cloth very seriously.
Types of African Clothing
As mentioned earlier there is an incredible variety of clothing in Africa. Below is a list of some of the clothing types found in Africa.