Women’s Collective Power through Traditional Communicative Strategy of Khanga in East Africa under Swahili Culture

Author: Meinrad Haule Lembuka (The Open University of Tanzania, Tanzania)
Speaker: Meinrad Haule Lembuka
Topic: Ethnography of Communication
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Kanga or Khanga is a Swahili word which means a traditional soft cotton cloths in varieties of colours, patterns, and styles which as a deep cultural, historical, and social significance throughout the coast of East Africa along the Indian Ocean, and for more than 100 years it has remained one of the most popular of all cultural items in across East Africa regions. Kanga, a type of African Ubuntu textile that has been used 1) as a communicative strategy by women (a site for unspoken communication practice or medium of communication) to the society and 2) collective medium of empowering Women in patriarchy system and a indigenous practice that symbolises Swahili culture of East Africa.

The article used a systematic literature reviews guided by Ubuntu theory to assess the Women’s collective power through Khanga dressing in East Africa under Swahili culture.

In East Africa, kanga is more than a piece of fabric-it is a space for women to voice unspeakable communication and a women-centered repository for indigenous knowledge, feminisms addressing social ills, happiness, campaigns, memories and reconciliation etc.  Kanga provides an indirect voice and support women in their personal life and a means for accessing social, economic and political arenas by disrupting patriarchal societal norms of privacy and modest behavior. The kanga continues to be of value as an item of clothing and display, and as a medium for communicating a range of messages about status, identity, relationships, and other social commentary.

Lesson Learned

  • Kanga functions as a communicative and archival tool
  • Kanga continues to be a testament of the collective power of marginalized social groups especially women in East Africa
  • Kangas archive experiences, histories and future narratives

As text in textile, Despite the advancement of science and technology Kanga has become an international dress and an ethnography of communication (EOC) that  works perfectly in the modern World.

Keywords: Swahili culture, Khanga, Swahili language, indigenous communicative tool, Ubuntu culture.