Monday, 12 July 2010

Map of patterns - Kangas, Shirley Ming and Barak Obama

Here is Shirley Ming wearing a beautiful kanga, bearing the motto:


"On the mountain path, stay true to your meaning/path"

Kanga cloths are all about sending messages - they are the equivalent of greeting cards but their message goes a little bit beyond the normal meaning because they incorporate visual imagery and symbols and come alive when they are worn on the body.

I think you can see in Shirleys kanga that the soft, harmonious colours and the blossoming flowers offer happiness to those who follow the message and stay true to their own path in life.

Shirley is very attached to her kanga and I could never have cut it up to use on my map, so I found another on the internet. It commemorates the election of Barak Obama and celebrates this new bond between Africa and America. It's motto reads:


"God has blessed us with peace and love"


"Good Luck Barak Obama"

Kangas originated on the coast of East Africa in the mid 19th century and on my map I have used my kanga to make the island of Madagascar - you can just see Barak Obamas face peeping out surrounded by black spots.

The spots on the kanga give a clue to its origin: in the beginning kangas were made from
a bolt of spotty handerchief cloth from which single handerkerchiefs were cut off and sold:
ingenious women bought the cloth in lengths of 6 handkerchiefs, then cut the six into two lengths of three, and sewed these together along one side to make 3-by-2 sheet; or bought different kinds of kerchiefs and sewed them back together to make their own unique designs.

The new design was called "leso" after the kerchief squares that had originally been brought to Africa by Portuguese traders. The leso quickly became popular than the other kind of patterned cloth available. Before long, enterprising coastal shopkeepers sent away for special designs, printed like the six-together leso pieces, but as a single unit of cloth.

They are named "Kanga" after the noisy, spotty guinea-fowl bird. Although the kanga design might differ slightly, a typical kanga in East Africa consists of a wider border (Swahili: pindo), the central motif (Swahili: mji), and the writing (Swahili: ujumbe or jina).

These cloths play a very special role in people’s lives, both functional and symbolic, from birth, through courtship and marriage , to old age and death. There is a kanga for every occasion and to convey every shade of meaning.

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