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Colours in African cloth are of very important meaning which vary from people to people and cloth to cloth.

For example, the Akan people in West Africa use dark colours such as red, black, and brown for funer- als; the Akon use white for joyous occasions, such as naming ceremonies. In kente cloth, gold represents status and serenity. Yellow represents fertility (like the ripeness of an egg yolk or a fruit) and vitality. Green signifies the renewal and growth seen in plants, and represents the cycle of birth and decay. Blue represents the presence of God and the omnipotence of the blue sky. Blue also refers to a pure spirit, one which rests in harmony. Red connotes passion -- the passion of polit- ical determination, struggle, and defence. The Ashanti also believe that red holds protective powers. Black denotes seriousness, union with ancestors and implies spiritual awareness.

Of course, at some point, fabric becomes clothing. Indeed, clothing traditions vary with each African ethnic group. Each society has its own name for differ- ent types of clothing made out of traditional cloth particular to that group of people. However, one finds similarities across cultures. And with migration and interaction over time, ethnic groups have adapted and share customs of dress.


Styles of clothing vary from the simple, plain shirt and wrap to the intermediate, in which there is the begin- ning of design and slight detail and to complex, more detailed, formal cloths. Different ethnic groups have their own names for a particular piece of clothing. For example, the Hausa call a top 'riga', a bottom 'wando', and a gown 'buba riga', while the Yoroba call a top 'buba', a bottom 'sokoto', and a gown 'agbada'.

Traditional use of the cloths also differs from one group to another. The Mende people in Sierra Leone, for example, use country cloth for various ceremonial purposes including marriage gifts, burials, religious purposes, and gifts for visitors. In courtship, the groom or his relatives gives traditional cloth to the family of the bride as a gift. In burial ceremonies, the gathering of traditional cloth helps to denote the kind of afterlife one will lead. Those who bury the dead must dress the deceased in white hand-spun threads and place tradi- tional cloth next to the body or at the bottom of the grave. Dressing the individual in white also represents Muslim influence.

Traditionally, some cloths such as kente were used only by people of certain status or for particular cere- monies. Today, the Ashanti wear kente cloth outside of court regalia. Men wear Kente by wrapping a piece of cloth (on average 8ft wide by 12ft long) around them- selves, leaving the right shoulder and hand uncovered. Women wear it wrapped around their body, with or without a match a matching blouse.

With the advent of modern fashion, aso oke, which was commonly worn by the Yoruba, is now worn during events such as naming cere- monies, engagements, wed- dings and funerals, as well as religious ceremonies.


African fashion has influ- enced, and has been influ- enced by other cultures. Post-Renaissance Europe greatly admired the raffia of Central Africa and it found its way into European treas- uries along with other cre- ations of African art. Raffia designs were a source of inspiration to Matisse, the famous French painter, who hung a large part of the design on the wall of his studio. Different styles of African fashion have evolved from the mixture of African and Western cultures. There are many clothes of traditional African cut which are fashioned using a combination of Western and Afri- can cloth. African designers create clothes of Western design using traditional African cloth. Hence today you can find kente ties and dyes, or coats made from indigo cloth. One might see a sora (a woman's wrap skirt), made from jean material with accents of bogolanfini (mud cloth), and many other examples.

Today, African dress and cloth influences fashion worldwide, from New York to Milan to London. Afri- can fashion and traditional styles have been adopted and adapted by Africans of the diaspora and even non-Af- ricans who are increasingly wearing bubas, soras, and geles and kentes. Many European cities celebrate Afri- can culture and traditional African dress -- another illus- tration of the dynamic nature of African fashion.

Today, African dress and cloth influences fashion throughout the world -- from New York to Milan to London"

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Publication:New African Woman
Date:Nov 30, 2016
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