cloth (garment)


Principally a woman’s garment in Swahili society, kangas and leso are rectangular printed cloths that are worn in matching pairs. They would be wrapped around the waist. Other cloths, leso, are worn like a scarf.

These textiles highlight east Africa’s commercial connection to the wider world. Typically designed in Kenya, produced in India and then sold in the Kenyan and Tanzanian markets. Similar cloths are found in Oman.

The name kanga comes from the guinea-fowl, a bird native to the African continent. This bird has a decorative spotted plumage which adorned the earliest examples of these cloths.

Kangas serve to communicate ideas through inscription, design and how they’re worn. They can be used to convey political ideas, global issues even the personal.

The Swahili “watu kwa amani” translates as “people of peace”

Donated by Chris Spring, British Museum, in 2015 after the Social Fabric exhibition.

L. 3498 x W. 1095 mm

This object is not on display.

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