Chitenge: Our Identity
African fashion is exploding right now. The use of African patterns, the African landscape being etched on pottery, woven baskets adorning the centre pieces of a lot of western homes, wooden salad bowls, wire mesh men on bicycles, the list goes on. The celebration of Africa is under way. Everyone has sat up and paid attention, most importantly young Africa is raising its head proudly and saying this is who we are.
If the likes of Burberry can use African patterned material, cinch it at the waist and put several zeros after a number then showcase it in fancy windows, does this give a ‘better’ modern twist to how the material is used? Does it give it more value?
A modern twist?
Yes! We’ve seen it in bow ties, on high heels, turbans, kimonos, handbags, pencil skirts, drainpipe trousers, corporate blazers to pair with your kinky curl, its on sunglasses, rings to make your evening outfit pop, high waisted summer shorts, long flowery skirts…the list is endless!
No! Not more value, not at all. This material is the very same material little babies shyly hide behind on their mothers backs, what little girls swaddle their dolls in. Whether the doll is from the store or a little mud baby, it is what pads the head of a woman as she carries water from the stream to her village, what she wears around her waist all day and can easily be transformed into a useful tool depending on the situation, what she uses to cover herself during awkward adolescent stages. Its the colourful lacy one she wears to church or a family wedding, what she wears when her child graduates, what she gets as a gift when she gives birth to a child, what she receives as a gift from her own mother in preparation for marriage, what she wraps under her armpits after a shower, what her husband rips off in the throes of making love, what she covers her shoulders with at a chilly outdoor cocktail party,what she spreads on the ground to sit on after a long walk, for her babies to sit on in the backyard as they play house, she makes sure her elderly mother has a nice colourful one to wear to cheer her up… she will own so many in her life time, it’s her friend, her tool, sometimes even her lifeline… it’s her Chitenge.
The explosion of African print on the market only reflects a delicious morsel of what this versatile material really means to an African woman. It is so wonderful to see how the world is embracing what we already hold dear, and it is even more endearing to see young Africans embrace it in a way that speaks for their generation, showing that the chitenge works for anyone, at any stage of life, whatever the generation.
*Chitenge (Kitenge in East Africa) is the colourful, patterned material worn and used by African women. As described in the article it has various uses and can often be printed symbolically or for religious and traditional reasons.