Monday, June 14, 2010

African Clothing Styles

In this series. We will be posting different styles that African clothes can be made into.

The Grand Boubou/Bubu:

This one of the names for a flowing wide sleeved robe worn by men in much of West Africa, and to a lesser extent in North Africa, related to the Dashiki suit. It is known by various names, depending on the ethnic group wearing them: Agbada (Yoruba, Dagomba), Babban Riga (Hausa), K’sa (Tuareg) Grand Boubou (in various Francophone West African countries) and the English term of Gown. The Senegalese Boubou, a variation on the Grand Boubou described below, is also known as the Senegalese kaftan. The female version worn in some communities is also known as a M’boubou or Kaftan.Its origin lies with the clothing worn by the Islamized Tukulor, Mande and Songhai peoples of the historic 8th Century Takrur and Ghana Empires, and 13th Century Mali and Songhai Empires, who had in turn adopted the clothing of the nobility of the early Islamic Empire via the Tuareg people. (see Bisht and Kaftan for information on these).
The use of the Grand boubou as clothing became widespread throughout the West African region with the migration of semi-nomadic groups such as the Fulani, and traders such as the Dyula and Hausa. Comparing the Grand boubou to the various styles of Arabic Thawb suggests the Grand boubou follows a more archaic template to the contemporary male clothing of the Middle East and North Africa.The Grand boubou is usually decorated with intricate embroidery, and is worn on special religious or ceremonial occasions, for example the two Islamic Eid festivals, weddings, funerals or for attending the Mosque for Friday prayer. It has become the formal attire of many countries in West Africa. Older robes have become family heirlooms passed on from father to son and are worn as status symbols.
The Boubou has female versions in Mali, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea, whereas in other regions of West Africa, the female formal clothing has been the kaftan or wrapper.
The Grand boubou as a full formal attire consists of 3 pieces of clothing: a pair of tie-up trousers that narrow towards the ankles (known as a Sokoto in Yoruba, Western Nigeria) and a long-sleeved shirt (known as a Dashiki in Yoruba, Western Nigeria) and a wide, open-stitched sleeveless gown worn over these. They are generally of the same colour, and historically were made from silk, but increased understanding of Islamic restrictions on clothing meant the Grand boubou is now mostly made from cotton and synthetic cloths made to resemble silk.There is a set etiquette to wearing the Grand boubou, primarily in place to keep the over-gown above the ankles at any one time, in keeping with Islamic traditions of avoiding impurity (see Najis). This can include folding the open sleeves of the Boubou over one’s shoulders, normally done while walking or before sitting down (as the man in the yellow Grand boubou in the picture to the right is displaying) to ensure the over-gown doesn’t rub against the ground, or by folding/wrapping each side over the other with the hand, narrowing the gowns space toward the ankles (as done by the Tuareg nomads of the Sahara). Thus, it is rare to see the Grand boubou’s square shaped gown completely unwrapped.

This is the female version of the boubou. Kaftans are often
embroidered on the front and on the sleeves or just plain with other materials.

Isi Agu (Lions Head):

The Isiagu, also called Chieftaincy, is a pullover shirt similar to the dashiki that is worn by Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria. It is usually worn on special occasions. The shirt may be long or short sleeved. Some shirts have gold buttons that are linked by a chain. There is usually a breast pocket on the front. Traditionally, the Isiagu was given to a man when he received a chieftaincy title. The shirt is usually worn with a red fez hat or the Igbo leopard cap. The leopard cap is known as Okpu Agu (The lions hat) in the Igbo language of Eastern Nigeria.


The wrapper is a colorful women’s garment widely worn in West Africa. It has formal and informal versions and varies from simple draped clothing to fully tailored ensembles tied on the waist. The formality of the wrapper depends on the fabric used to create it. The wrapper is called an Iro in the Yoruba language, pronounced E-roo, Ukwu akwa in Ibo. The wrapper is usually worn with a matching headscarf or head tie that is called a gele in Yoruba, Ichafu in Ibo. A full wrapper ensemble consists of three garments. First, a blouse, called a buba, pronounced boo-bah. Second, a wrap skirt called a wrapper in English or an iro in Yoruba. Third, a headscarf which is called a head tie in English and a gele in Yoruba. A wrapper takes metres of quality fabric.The wrapper gained popularity in the West following the black pride movement of the 1960s. It is enjoying a resurgence thanks to African immigration, and the formal wrapper is frequently worn at weddings, graduations and other special occasions by Africans all over the world.

The dashiki is a colorful men’s garment widely worn in Africa that covers the top half of the body. It has formal and informal versions and varies from simple draped clothing to fully tailored suits. Other African clothing fabrics can also be made into the dashiki style.

George fabric:

George fabric comes from India. Its gets its name from prince George of England because England controlled all of the looms in India that made this fabric. For several generations George has been exported to Africa and it became so popular that it is normally taught to be an African fabric. It can be used as wrapper, danshiki or other African outfit styles. It can also be used to display as wall art, place mat, curtain and more. The most commonly however is the use of George fabric for clothing. It is renowned for its brilliance gold embroidery and vibrant colors. It is made with 100% cotton.

Is there a special style in your country of origin you will like tenuci to share on our blog?
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