The Different Types of African Fabric You Can Find

The Different Types of African Fabric You Can Find

African fabric is fabric made in Africa and culturally considered African

You may be familiar with Ankara fabric if you’re from the West and Kitenge if you’re from East Africa. 

We have so many more African fabrics yah may know about and others you may not know about. Read along to find out more

‘Kitenge/Chitenge’ African Fabric

pronounced ‘KiyTehNGeH’

Kitenge is an inexpensive, informal piece of clothing that is often decorated with a huge variety of colors, patterns. This is the fabric we use for our Murahaba Headwraps.

The printing on the cloth is done by a traditional batik technique. These are known as wax prints and the design is equally as bright and detailed on both sides of the fabric. The  fabric is sorted into categories of quality due to the processes of manufacturing. Kitenges are similar to kangas and kikoy, but are of a thicker cloth and have an edging on only a long side. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of the Congo are some of the African countries where kitenge is worn.  This is one of the African Fabrics  also worn by men around the waist in hot weather. Women wear this around their waists as well. It is more used than the less/khanga because women come in different sizes, so they fashion it according to their body size.

Both Men and Wombman tailor make clothes out of this particular fabric. Aso Oke is a Yoruba word meaning ‘clothes of the family’. In many cases families, close friends, relatives will dress up in similar prints for special occasions.

‘Kente’ African Fabric

pronounced ‘ KehNTeh’

Kente is a hand woven silk and cotton cloth originating in South Ghana. Its use, influence, and popularity has spread throughout West Africa. In original Akan tradition, kente also known as nwentom was only worn by royalty and for religious and sacred purposes. A tribe in Ghana called the Ewes also had their own Kente designs similar to the one of Akans. In modern days, kente is evolved to be a symbol of African heritage for people all over the world.

Kente is used for traditional West African celebrations, such as weddings and festivals. The original Kente gave birth to “Kente print” which is a regular cotton African fabric with designs similar to original woven kente cloth. This is much affordable and available in Wax print that many use to design their clothing.

‘Morogoro’ African Fabric

pronounced ‘MohRohGohRoh’

Tanzanian made Kitenge. This is cotton Kitenge printed by our neighbors in Tanzania. This african fabric is named after a town in Tanzania where it is manufactured. The different from the normal kitenge in size and print. It comes shorter and it can be worn on one side only. This is also cheaper and more affordable for local women to be able to purchase. The prints are authentically african hued and the borders have ‘Made in Tanzania’. They are used as gifts and wrapped around the waist for special occasion.

King and Queen Wearing Kente Print Fabric

‘Mud Cloth (Bogolan)’ African Fabric

Bogolan means ‘made from mud’ in Bambara, the main language of the people in Mali. The Bogolan technique of dyeing and printing cotton is completely organic and environmentally-friendly. It one of the African fabrics that contains no harmful chemicals. It uses dried plants and fruit as dye.

Handwoven and crafted mud cloth is cotton fabric made in West Africa. Mud cloth is 100% cotton hand-woven fabric, traditionally dyed with fermented mud. Malian men start the process by weaving cotton thread on a loom. The dyes are made from a mixture of roots, leaves, tree barks and wild grapes. It is usually painted by the women. It is handmade from start to finish. Mud Cloth is being exported worldwide for use in fashion, fine art and decoration. Hotels often use Mud Cloth for tablecloths or as decorations for walls, and  is also worn by individuals. The making of Mud Cloth is time-consuming and takes about four days to a week, depending on weather conditions. African artisans hand-dye symbols into fabric in order to tell stories of their villages and communicate African proverbs. Mud Cloth has a long tradition of being used by West African warriors and hunters to camouflage themselves. No two pieces of Mud Cloth are exactly the same; the patterns vary from one unique piece to the other.

Now, people across the globe are wearing them to stand out and celebrate their connection to the African heritage. They’re most often used for pillows and upholstery.

‘Kikoy’ African Fabric

pronounced ‘KiyKoyi’

This multi purpose material is known as Kikoi or Kikoy from Tanzania and Kenya. It is hand made with cotton and worn by men and women for centuries but spread throughout the world today. This is a very versatile material. It is used as Sarong, beach towel, wrapper, tie- around-neck-dress, head wrap, skirts, shirts, throw, home decor, and much more

‘Kanga’ African Fabric

pronounced ‘KahNGah’

Kanga (or Khanga) is from the old Bantu (Kiswahili) verb ku-kanga, meaning “to wrap or close”. Kanga fabric is worn by women and occasionally by men throughout the Eat African Great Lakes region. More than a piece of clothing, Kanga fabric symbolizes expressions in Swahili. Some Kanga fabrics are printed with words of wisdom, blessings, good fortune, friendship and encouragement. Kanga is ideal for many purposes. This includes gifts, dresses, head wraps, baby carrier, home décor, shirts, and crafts, to name a few. The kanga, is a colourful fabric similar to kitenge, but lighter. This is a piece of printed cotton fabric, about 1.5 m by 1 m. It is often with a border along all four sides (called pindo in Swahili). And has a central part (mji) which differs in design from the borders. They are sold in pairs, which can then be cut and hemmed to be used as a set.

Whereas kitenge is a more formal fabric used for nice clothing, the kanga is much more than a clothing piece.  It can be used as a skirt, head-wrap, apron, pot-holder, towel, and much more.

The kanga is an African fabric culturally significant on Eastern coast of Africa, often given as a gift by men to women. They are also given to mourning families in Tanzania after the loss of a family member as part of a mchango (or collection). Which many community members put a bit of money to support the family in their grief. Kangas are also similar to Kishutu and Kikoy which are traditionally worn by men. The Kishutu is one of the earliest known designs, named after a town in Tanzania. They are particular given to young brides as part of their dowry or by healers to cast off evil spirits. Due to its ritual function they do not always include a proverb.

The earliest pattern of the kanga was patterned with small dots or speckles, which look like the plumage of the guinea hen, also called “kanga” in Swahili. This is where the name comes from, contrary to the belief that it comes from a Swahili verb for to close.

‘Ukara Ekpe’ African Fabric 

pronounced “OohKahRah  EhKpeh”

Ukara ekpe’ is woven material usually dyed blue (but also green and red). It is covered in nsibidi symbols and motifs. Ukara ekpe cloths are woven in Abakaliki, and then they are designed by male nsibidi artists in the Igbo-speaking towns the Ekpe society. Nsibidi is a system of symbols indigenous to what is now southeastern Nigeria. It is apparently an ideographic script, though there have been suggestions that it includes logographic elements. The symbols are at least several centuries old. Symbols including lovers, metal rods, trees, feathers, hands in friendship war and work. It also contains masks, moons, and stars are dyed onto ukara cloths. The cloth is dyed by elder women in secret, and young males in public. Ukara was a symbol of wealth and power only handled by titled men and elder women.

It can be worn as a wrapper (a piece of clothing) on formal occasions. A larger version is hung in society meeting houses and on formal occasions. Ukara motifs are designed in white and are placed on grids set against an indigo background. Some of the designs include abstract symbols representing the Ekpe society. Such as repeating triangles representing the leopard’s claws and therefore Ekpe’s power. Ukara African fabric includes naturalistic designs representing objects such as gongs, feathers and manilla currency, a symbol of wealth. Powerful animals are included, specifically the leopard and crocodile.

‘Aso Oke’ African Fabric

pronounced ‘AhSoh OhKeh’

This is a hand loomed cloth woven by the Yoruba people of western Nigeria. Aso oke means top cloth in the English language. This African fabric usually woven by men.  The fabric is used to make men’s gowns, called Agbada, women’s wrappers, called iro, and men’s hats, called fila.

It is from the Yoruba culture in Ondo, Oyo, Ogun, Ekiti, Lagos, and the Osun States in southwestern Nigeria. The way of making Aso-oke cloth has remained the same for centuries. However new techniques and production methods have been looked into to eliminate the weight and thickness of the Aso-Oke cloth. And to make it more accessible for casual wear.

‘Adire’ African Fabric

pronounced ‘AhDiyReh’

Adire  textile is the indigo-dyed cloth made in southwestern Nigeria by Yoruba women, using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques. The earliest pieces of this type were probably simple tied designs on cotton cloth handspun and woven locally. But in the early decades of the 20th century new access to large quantities of imported shirting material via the spread of European textile merchants in Abeokuta and other Yoruba towns caused a boom in these women’s entrepreneurial and artistic efforts. This made adire a major local craft in Abeokuta and Ibadan, attracting buyers from all over West Africa. Abeokuta is considered to be the capital of adire making in Nigeria. However some suggest that the large cities of Ibadan and Osogbo (Yorubaland) are more important in Adire making. This is because Adire dyeing began in Abeokuta when Egba women from Ibadan returned with this knowledge. The cloth’s basic shape became that of two pieces of shirting material stitched together to create a women’s wrapper cloth.

Bark Cloth

Barkcloth or bark cloth is a traditional Uganda fabric made by Uganda people. It is a versatile material that was once common in Africa, Indonesia, and the Pacific. Barkcloth comes primarily from trees of the Moraceae family, including Broussonetia papyrifera, Artocarpus altilis, and Ficus natalensis. It is made by beating sodden strips of the fibrous inner bark of these trees into sheets. They are then finished into a variety of items. Many texts that mention “paper” clothing are actually referring to barkcloth.

Some modern cotton-based fabrics are also named “barkcloth” for their resemblance to these traditional fabrics. Barkcloth has been manufactured in Uganda for centuries. It is an African fabric from Uganda’s sole representative on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

‘SShweShwe’ African Fabric

Shweshwe is a printed dyed cotton fabric widely used for traditional South African clothing. Originally dyed indigo, the African fabric is manufactured in a variety of colours and printing designs characterised by intricate geometric patterns. Due to its timeless popularity, shweshwe has been described as the denim, or tartan, of South Africa. The local name shweshwe is derived from the fabric’s association with Lesotho’s King Moshoeshoe I, also spelled “Moshweshwe”. Moshoeshoe I was gifted with the fabric by French missionaries in the 1840s and subsequently popularised it.

It is also known as sejeremane in Sotho, and ujamani in Xhosa. Afterwhich 19th century German and Swiss settlers who imported the blaudruck (“blue print”) fabric for their clothing. This helped entrench it in South African culture

African fabric are very different and very many. I have not completely exhausted them but these are the most popular. Please let us know if there’s some more that deserve to be mentioned that are not on here. We would love to learn more about what is out there.

Th Ahnk Yah of Yah time and energy.

Love Life !


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