For more than a hundred years, the world’s ultimate cover-up for women of all shapes and sizes could be found in East Africa – the “kanga” also called “leso”. Some believe the word Kanga comes from the Kiswahili verb Kukanga, to wrap others believe it comes from the Kanga, a noisy, sociable spotted Guinea fowl.
The kanga is a simple yet elegant body wrap that functions as an entire wardrobe for African women. This colorful, 100% cotton print measures approximately 64″ by 44″. Folded, wrapped, twisted and tied – add a little imagination and you have a skirt, a sundress, a turban or a toga; perfect for a day at the beach or pool, a picnic in the park, or a cocktail party “attention-getter”.
A typical kanga in East Africa consists of a wider border, “ pindo”, the central motif “ mji”, and the writing ”ujumbe or jina”. Kanga are printed as a repetitive pattern on a long roll and often bought as a “doti” a pair of the same design. The Kanga has two selvage edges and two raw edges where it is cut from the roll.
In addition to the vivid artful patterns, what makes a kanga truly unique is the Swahili proverb or saying — from “Sisi Sote Abiria Dereva Ni Mungu” (In this world we are all passengers, God is the driver) to “Naogopa Simba Na Meno Yake, Siogopi Mtu Kwa Maneno Yake” (I fear the lion for its jaws, I do not fear man for his words). Half of the fun is wearing what you want to express to the world each day.
In need of an unusual gift? Look no further! Kangas are the perfect gift. These multifunctional fabrics make decorative and useful tablecloths, tapestries, draperies and seat covers; they are frequently worn by men around the house or at the health club and sauna. Husbands give kangas to wives; children to their mothers. Women wear them everywhere as skirts, dresses, aprons, head wraps; babies are virtually born in them, and carried for years in a Kanga sling. They are carried in the car to make a quick picnic cloth, towel to dry off from that couldn’t resist swim, pad the “oops I left the window open”, dust off the dash or wipe the window. They have even been used on the road as a ground cloth to slide under the car and fix that disconnected muffler! No one can have too many!
Popular with souvenir-hunting tourists in Africa for decades, the kanga has finally found a permanent home in North America. KangaUSA is the direct importer of these “genuine” kangas made in Kenya or Tanzania. We are based in Belfast, Maine.