Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
When Somalia became an independent nation in 1960, the change in power was celebrated with new postage stamps. Departing from the royal portraits and vague images of "natives" favored by their colonizers, Somalis chose to circulate detailed images of local plants, animals, artisanal products, and beautiful young women in wrapped fabrics. In the early 1960s, these images were fairly accurate representations of contemporary fashions. Over the next twenty years, with a few notable exceptions, these images became more romanticized focusing on the folk dress worn by nomads in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Confronting drought, corruption, and economic interference from the West, dictator Siad Barre (who came to power in a military coup in 1969) longed openly for the "good old days" of nomadic life. As the country became increasingly unstable in the 1980s, leading to the collapse of the national government in 1991, postal depictions of textiles and wrapped clothing became even more divorced from reality: surface patterns unrelated to the drape of the cloth, fabrics that were too thin or wrapped in impossible ways, and styles of dress that were nothing but fantasy. This paper is based on an analysis of postage stamps collected by the author dating from the 1920s to 2000. As a form of material culture closely tied to national governments, postage stamps provide a fascinating window into the changing political landscape of Somalia.