About Kanga- A talking fabric

The kanga fabric is unique to the East African’s Swahili Coast. It is a rectangular piece of printed fabric, about 1.5 m x 1 m, with a border along all four sides (“pindo” in Swahili). And it contains Swahili text message written in the middle of the fabric in a form of riddle or a proverb.

The Kanga’s patterns are bold and sometime very colorful. And they are traditionally made of pure cotton, its quality varies based on the thickness and the texture of the fabric. Kangas usually come in a pair, which is also reflected on how it is used. For example, most East African women wear them around the house while cooking, cleaning, for carrying babies and to cover their heads.

The history of the origin of the kanga differs in many ways. But scholars believe that the idea of Kanga was brought to the Swahili Coast of East Africa by European traders specifically Portuguese in the 19th century. See Edouard Foà's photos here. Other fabrics/prints related to Kanga are Kitenge/Vitenge and Kikoi/Vikoi.