I feel the sound of Zanzibar Traditional Dress or Art of Dressing is the culture of its people . The rich history of the Islands brought many cultures together. To have some back ground and understanding of Zanzibar traditions, art and customs which have evolved over the centuries .
Due to the centuries of dhow trade in the Indian ocean with Arabia, India, Persia, Southern Europe and other oriental places . The islands acquired a rich social history and mixed cultures that exposed the islands to various types of dressing, linguistics, music, art of building, religious faiths, body ornaments and even the art of cooking.
The local people preferred the Islamic way of life and they were converted to Islam even before the coming of Portuguese. Islam played a major role in the art and cultures of the indigenous people especially Persians and Arabs. Then came the Indians who also contributed a lot in the art and cultures of the islanders. Arabs and Persians intermarried with the local people probably Africans to produce new breed of people called waswahili. This word is derived from Arabic word sahel which means coastal people. These local people in the past dressed simple clothing called kaniki which was black and white .This is trying to step back in time, the old time when local people walked barefoot and lived in mud huts .They had a simple life style.
This is telling the story of very old Zanzibar and bring back vivid memories of islands art of dressing on cultural perspective what is so special about Zanzibar Traditional dress from head dress to footwear. The Arabs brought their white garb and the turban, sandals as a footwear. The Yemen Arabs came with their simple vest or T-shirt with seroun as men’s dress. Arabs had a culture of protecting their women , therefore Arab women had to dress black veils called baibui when they were going outside their homes with a nikab to hide their faces. The Swahili men had their own head dress locally known as kofia (a beautifully knit white cap). The Egyptians also influenced the islands traditional dress who brought the coat and a red tarbush. The Europeans brought the shirt, trousers, boots and the tries.
The Khanga Dress . (perhaps the word khanga comes from India).
The khanga Dress comes from a humble origin. That is from a simple white cotton cloth to very colourful patterns of the dress. The best description of traditional dress is that they are a beautiful pieces of cloth worn by Zanzibar women of all ethnic backgrounds. They are usually worn during wedding occasions and funeral events. There are more than hundred uses of khanga according to the culture of the khanga dress , all khangas must bear a special message or words of wisdom as an added al traction to the weaver. So they were popularly used to convey a special message to the public during days of political struggle in the islands in the late 1950s.
These days , India is the main manufacturer and exporter of the Zanzibar khanga . Some of them were made in main land Tanzania when the textile industry was at the peak of cloth production. The khanga dress has become popular around the world , you may find many foreigners and tourists buying khanga and take them home .They are worn as also a symbol of women’s beauty and respect. Certain old women in Zanzibar collect khangas in their homes as a social prestige and this cultural heritage has become the envy of the world.
During colonial days, Zanzibar had a many good tailors of Indian and goan origin to name some them .They are Miguel Batista, Cosmas Martin, Antonio Demello and many more.
Others are The Mmoloo Brothers Co Ltd was established in 1900. and was the most fashionable suiting and dress materials . High class tailoring for ladies and Gents . R.G DOSHI. Was established in 1934 here in Zanzibar , dealers in textiles of high class tailoring for ladies and Gents at Indian Bazaar. Darajani street.
Now Zanzibar has many tailors and fashion designers to make the islands shine at fashion shows. One of the most famous Fashion Designer and professional tailor is Farouk Abdilah who received his tailoring .skill in London, United Kingdom.
Written by Amir Ali, photography by Robin Batista.