Kangas: Fabric of Kenyan Culture


Nairobi, Kenya

 Compared to museums in other cities, the Kenyan National Museum feels small and antiquated, but I think it’s worth the money for a glimpse into Kenyan culture.  It includes exhibits on local tribes, Kenya’s struggle from pre-colonialism to post-colonialism, the evolution of man (after all Kenya is the Cradle of Man) and major traditional milestones of different lifestages in Kenya.

My favorite part of the museum was a temporary exhibit on kangas. Kangas are a rectangle cotton fabric worn primarily as a wrap by women in Eastern Africa. They have colorful patterns, a phrase in Swahili and a border around the edges. Kangas are rich in meaning and are important to Kenyan culture.  When viewed over time the patterns and phrases can provide a historical, cultural story. Here are some examples from the exhibit along with their meanings in English (if you roll your cursor over the image).

Kangas can also be used as head wraps, blankets, curtains, baby carriers, etc. You can have them made into a tailored dress, a bag, and even flip flops.

Repurposing kangas for new uses
Repurposing kangas for new uses

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