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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
African khanga under threat
By Daniel Dickinson
BBC, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The traditional East African khanga wrap is under threat from the west.
Designer Farouque says the khanga's popularity is waning

The khanga is a simple piece of often brightly coloured rectangular cloth which is wrapped round the body.

It is a common sight in villages and towns across East Africa, but there are now signs that this popularity is beginning to wane.

The problem designers face is that many young and more educated women are turning towards western dress.

Zanzibari fashion designer Farouque Abdellah, who once made a khanga for the late Diana, Princess of Wales, is concerned.

He is appealing to Tanzanians to look at ways of conserving it and making khangas part of the mainstream fashion scene.

Colours, colours

One of the places where Tanzanians buy their khangas is the busy Kisutu market in downtown Dar es Salaam.

Kisutu market
Kisutu market is a riot of khanga colours
The market is a riot of colours, reflecting every colour of the rainbow that khangas come in.

In Tanzania you never have to look far to find a woman wearing a khanga - at around $1.50 each, it is everyday wear that all women can afford.

But it is also worn at formal occasions.

"All Tanzanian women have at least one khanga. It is a symbol of our culture and it is worn at weddings, funerals and other special events. It really is our national dress," says Mr Abdellah.

"To me the khanga is not just a piece of cloth. It has an important part in our history. It started as a handkerchief and then women sewed four or five pieces together to make a wrap".

"It was a Swahili invention, a Zanzibari invention. It has been picked up and adapted by many other countries in the region," says Mr Abdellah.


Most khangas carry a slogan, for example: "I am not jealous, but God will decide what I should get" or: "A good ship depends on the captain".
Sam Mandari
Sam Mandari does not wear khangas outdoors

Despite the importance of the khanga, Mr Abdellah believes it is losing its place in East African culture.

At the recently held Zanzibar International Film Festival he brought young designers together to discuss ways of ensuring the future of the khanga as a national symbol.

"Although the quantity of khangas produced in Tanzania is not dropping, the quality certainly is, so I have asked these young designers to look at ways of incorporating khanga design into more mainstream fashion".

"This will ensure it stays a central part of our culture," he says.

But to ensure that happens, young Tanzanians like 24-year-old chef Sam Mandari have to be persuaded.

"I do like khangas, but I normally only wear them at home," she said.

"I am still young so when I am out in town I want to look fashionable, so I wear western clothes." There is little chance that women in Tanzania will stop wearing the khanga altogether, but it seems as though it may well become more marginalised as western fashion becomes ever more popular.

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