An East African Fabric Called Kitenge

By Monday, October 20, 2014 0 , Permalink 8

Kitenge is an East African cotton fabric printed in various colours and distinctive patterns. It has its origin from Kiswahili kitengele. Kitenge is sometimes worn as sarong by women, or as a baby sling. Some of the African countries where kitenge is worn are Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Sudan. It is an informal and inexpensive fabric with a distinctive border and political slogans.

In Swahili the plural form is ‘vitenge’ while in Tonga it is ‘zitenge’. It forms an important part of the East African culture. Kitenge fabric has a long history and gives the Eastern African region an identity. Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Kim Kardashian and Solange are some of the celebrities that have been spotted on the red carpet wearing Kitenge designs.

In Kenya the Kitenge festival is a popular event held periodically and is meant to highlight the varied uses of Kitenge fabric. This vibrant cotton fabric is wax printed, using rotary printing machines. Most often it’s a multicolored, dark wax print on a lighter background. The printing on the cloth is done by a traditional batik technique.

Kitenge is usually a thick plain weaved light-weight fabric which is high tensioned on warp and weft with prints on both sides. It is manufacture from a plain weave cloth. The selvedges are firm and well woven.

Kitenge forms continuous prints lengthwise with no distinct border lines separating one piece from the adjacent piece. During national holidays, jubilees etc specific patterns are designed. A large variety of religious and political designs is found as well as traditional tribal patterns with various meanings.

Kitenge is called ‘the communicating textile’ because of the various colours, patterns, writings and symbols which represent moods, feelings, cultures, and traditions of native African people. Some of the African countries where kitenge is worn are Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Sudan. It is an informal and inexpensive fabric with a distinctive border and political slogans.

In Swahili the plural form is called ‘vitenge’ while in Tonga it is called ‘zitenge’. It forms an important part of the East African culture. Kitenge fabric has a long history and gives the Eastern African region an identity. Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Kim Kardashian and Solange are some of the celebrities that have been spotted on the red carpet wearing Kitenge designs. It also stands for courage and blood that is given to them by nature. Though used in many African countries, Kitenge is yet to be accepted as an official dress as it is only worn during ceremonies and non-official functions. The Maasai wears dark red kitenge garments to symbolize their love for and their dependence on the earth. In Malawi, Namibia and Zambia, kitenge is known as Chitenge. Chitenges are never worn by men in Malawi.