Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/

doi 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0056


Copyright © 2018 by the author or authors.


This paper analyzes and documents traditional textiles and clothing of the Kenyan people before and after independence in 1963. The paper is based on desk top research and face to face interviews from senior Kenyan citizens who are familiar with Kenyan traditions. An analysis of some of the available Kenya’s indigenous textile fiber plants is made and from which a textile craft basket is made. Kenya’s textile and clothing industry has undergone tremendous changes from pre-colonial era (before 1963) to date. Traditionally Kenyans donned clothing made out locally available materials; namely plants and animal skin. Color for these materials was also naturally obtained from plants and animal and other organic and inorganic substances such as mud and animal dung. Since the textile materials were scarce, the clothing was scantily and only served the purpose for covering supposed nudity. Only sections of the lower torso were covered for both men and women after puppetry. Children (before puberty) were unclothed because the weather is warm enough (Kenya is on the equator). Babies and toddlers were strapped on the backs of older siblings or their mothers using slings made out of leather or other suitable fibrous materials such as banana fibers. After colonialization of the Kenyan colony by the British and introduction of Christianity among the Kenyan people, the traditional textiles ceased as the “western” clothing replaced the indigenous ones and suddenly “nudity” became an issue to deal with. For the purpose of commercialization, textiles industries were introduced by the British and Indian traders from which cloth was factory made for export and from cotton grown by the local farmers and machinery from England and India and the cloth was mainly. The indigenous textile materials were slowly forgotten as the exotic materials (specifically cotton) took root. After the introduction of the factory made cloth, the traditional “clothing” manufacture also ceased existence. In time and with the advent of trade liberalization in the early 1990s, these “new” textile factories have since closed down and importation of new and second hand textiles and clothing have taken over. Kenyan currently relies heavily on imported new and second hand textiles and clothing from the east and west. Further research seeks to explore ways in which the traditional industry could be rejuvenated to bring forth the rich cultural heritage of the Kenyan people.