Traditional and Cultural Dresses of various North, East and North East African Countries

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Africa is the 2nd largest continent in the world with 53 countries and over 1000 ethnicities and cultures. In the north are the Arab Africans and their fashion or traditional dress will be very similar to that in the Middle East. In East Africa we have so many variant cultures and different traditional dress some of which have been transformed into national dress. The common thing is the “shuka” in the form of Khanga or kitenge which may be worn in different ways. Most African dress is very colorful and Africans are known for the traditional  jewelry worn in various ways..

 North Africa

The countries of North Africa are Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Morocco. Most of these countries practice the Muslim faith and their culture is heavily influenced by Islam. Women will mostly be veiled with long dresses that cover their body completely. The men in North Africa may also cover their faces mainly because of the environmental conditions, like dessert winds in the area. The garment used ensured they kept heat off during the day and warmed them during the night.

Fez Cap

The fez cap: This originated in Morocco, yet was first popularized in the Ottoman Empire. The fez cap was worn by the army members, but quickly adopted by Turks and was worn by many different religious and ethnic groups in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. It is however not very popular today.

  Algerian Algerian urban dress with burnous on shoulder

  Djellaba worn in Fes Morroco

Moroccan Kaftan:  In Morrocco kaftans are only worn by women, and are substantially different from their Turkish counterpart. The kaftan is the original Moroccan dress and can be a dressy casual to extremely formal depending on the materials used. They can be worn at many celebration events like birthday parties, and weddings. The other traditional dress similar top the Kaftan in Morocco is the “takchita”. The takchita is “is composed of two pieces, a dress as a first layer, often of fine but not ornately decorated fabric, and a more elaborate second layer or over-dress that often buttons up the front using the traditional sfifa and akaad closures. The upper layer is often richly adorned with embroidery, beading or sequins”.

 Morrocan Kaftan

The thawb: This is a long tunic commonly worn by men in the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Morocco, and other Muslim countries. It is normally made of cotton, but heavier materials such as sheep’s wool can also be used, especially in colder seasons. The style of the thawb varies slightly among the various regions within the Persian Gulf. The sleeves and the collar can be stiffened to give a more formal appearance. Different countires that use the dress may use different names or designs. In Morocco, the sleeves tend to be much shorter so that the thawb may seem more like a long T-shirt and is locally called Gandora. The neck design of that of the Moroccan tends to be more open than in its Saudi counterpart and is often embroidered at the breast pocket.

 The thawb as worn in Oman notice the different head gears

In Libya it is known as suriyah and is an ankle-length usually with long sleeves, similar to a  robe as seen below in this picture. It is common to have women’s face covered by the hijab or as in this picture of an Egypitian woman.

East and North East Africa. 

The countries in East and North East Africa are Kenya,Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somali and Sudan Rwanda and Burundi. These countries have many enthnicities within their borders and hence many cultures and dress. Due to the influence of colonisation by the British, some East Africans have adopted the Western dress although it is sometimes culturised to look African. In the Coastal areas the Arab influence can sometimes be manifest by the dress and the Muslim faith.

Khanga:The khanga is a colorful garment worn by women and occasionally by men throughout East Africa. It is a piece of printed cotton fabric, about 1.5m by 1m, often with a border along all four sides and a central part which differs in design in the different countries. Kangas are usually very colorful and have proverbs inscribed on them. An equivalent of Khanga is the kitenge which is also made from cotton fabric and is sometimes used to make different fashions like skirts, shorts and trousers. Kitenges and khangas are also good beach wear. 

 A woman with Khanga wrapped around her head and waist

 a Khanga trouser

Gomesi: A Gomesi, also called a Busuuti is a colorful ankle length dress. It is the national costume dress for women in Uganda. The Gomesi is a brightly colored cloth dress with a square neckline and short, puffed sleeves. The dress is tied with a sash placed below the waist over the hips. The Gomesi has two buttons on the left side of the neckline. Most Gomesi are made of silk, cotton, or linen fabric, with silk being the most expensive. A khanga is tied underneath the linen Gomesi to ensure that the fabric does not stick to the body. It can require up to 6 meters of cloth for a well fitting Gomesi. The Gomesi is mainly worn on special occasions such as funerals and weddings.

  Women adorned with Gomez

Mishanana: In Rwandan the Mishanana is the traditionbal formal wear for woman. The dress is elegant and resembles the Indian Sari. The mishanana consists of a long lined skirt and a separate scarf. It is made with light weight fabric like chiffon.

The Mishanana

The Kikuyus Style: The Kikuyus are a dynamic tribe. Today they wear Western like clothing but may on occasion during certain ceremonies adorn traditional dress. Traditionaly they also wore “shuka” but they also wore leather clothing made from animal furs. The design of the clothes reflected the status or age of the person. The younger girls or unamarried women clothing was more revealing while that of the older and married women was modest covering them up.

 Senior Kikuyu woman.

  Traditional young Kikuyu women. Note the fabric is leather. This photo is over 100 years old.

The Maasais attire: The Maasais of Kenya and Tanzanai have retained their traditional wear of “shuka” which is wrapped across the body. The cloth is mainly red but they also wear blue. They generally adorn themselves with beaded jewelry on their ears, neck, hands and legs.

 Young Maasai Girls, notice the chest is more bear.

 Older Maasai woman notice her chest is covered

Maasai male

The Samburus, Pokot and the Turkanas: These are are the other tribes in Kenya which have retained most of the traditional dress. They also wear a lot of jewelry and use cloth wrapping. All these tribes are pastoralist and move from one area to another and their cloth is thus suitable for their movement.

 Pokot Women

Pokot women with more modern dressing

Samburu young women and male warriors

Habesha Qemis: The Ethiopian traditional dress is called the habesha qemis. The dress is ankle length and is made of white cotton. Most of the Ethiopian dresses are decorated with Ethiopian motifs. The dress is commonly worn during Ethiopian coffee ceremony.  The netela is a wrap that many Ethiopian women wrap around their head and shoulders.

  Ethiopian coffee Ceremony

 The Netela scarf on the head

The Somali Style: The vast majority of the Somalis are Muslims and their dress is influenced by their religion. This involves covering themselves on the head and their bodies as a mark of decency. Majority of them are also nomads and like most pastoralists and nomads the wrap is common. The male when not adorned with Western dress can be found wearing sarongs silimar to those in East Asians countries.

 Young  somali girls in traditional wear

 Young somali girl with glitter make up on the face. Common in wedding ceremonies

 A Somali man wearing a Sarong


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