Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


The Kanga is one of Africa's least understood textiles. As a simple cotton, colorful, hand and machine printed cloth it embodies dynamic historical co-production of culture throughout African and Indian Ocean trade networks. Exploring African mercantile trade history, the coproduction and exchange of iconography, the diverse use and meanings of the Kanga, suggests a valuable discursive role for this textile. Despite its longevity of more than 150 years, its significant role in creation of identities, and its contribution to communication through design and social meaning, the Kanga, receives limited attention in textile research. Though seen by many as a simple machine printed cloth, inexpensive and worn for daily use, it continues to carry a high degree of value across diverse societies far beyond the east African coast where it is thought to have originated. Its historical connections within and beyond the African continent present a view of cultural co-production and exchange not often acknowledged in this region. Background materials for the research were drawn from a multi-lingual literature review and more than 50 interviews which have been collected over a two year period, by the principle researcher in collaboration with The National Museums of Kenya, Department of Cultural Heritage team of Anthropologists. This research contributes to a small but scholarly collection of data on the Kanga, filling a gap in the study of African textiles.