Kanga Cloth: Loyalties and Disloyalties Exposed in the Public and Private Spheres

Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:50 AM
Wilson Room (Palmer House Hilton)
C. Cymone Fourshey, Bucknell University
Since the nineteenth century, women in Eastern Africa - from Somalia to Mozambique along the coasts to the interior - employ the kanga, a cloth inscribed with provocative phrases, draped across their bodies to challenge rivals and provide various signals to their partners. With these cloths, women’s movement through public and private spaces become performances of power to expose familial, social, and political loyalties and disloyalties. This paper will explore the Kanga, particularly in nineteenth and twentieth century Tanzania, as a popular culture phenomenon that has become a powerful tool of social commentary transnationally. While the gifting of kangas is read as a form of loyalty, across time women and men have employed the phrases inscribed on kanga borders to challenge and question loyalties of family and community members or to declare their own loyalties to a partner, children, political leaders, and pop culture icons.