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african fabrics

Common African Clothing Symbols and Their Meaning

African fabrics have beautiful patterns, bright colours, and interesting imagery—but these designs are more than just decoration. Each symbol correlates to certain religious, political, or historical beliefs. Not everyone who wears these fabrics knows the stories that go with them. In this article, you'll learn the history of these clothing items and the meaning of any symbols you see.

The Kente Fabric

Kente fabric is made of cotton, silk, or rayon and comes in various colours. It's usually patterned with bold stripes, checks, or squares. People of the Akan ethnic group in West Africa wear Kente fabrics to celebrate traditional holidays, like New Year or Ashanti. Kente is used in many ways, like wrapping unruly children or as a mat to display items. It can also be sewn into clothing or used as a head wrap.

Meaning of Kente Clothes

The patterns on Kente fabric hold special meaning. Yellow, orange, and red stripes represent the sun, fire, and blood. Purple, blue, and green stripes symbolise the sky, water, and fertility. The checkers represent the universe. The square patterns are linked to the ancients who used them for the burial of kings.

The Kuba Cloth

The Kuba people primarily made Kuba fabrics in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Kuba are farming people who produce beautiful dying techniques, creating vivid colours and stunning designs.

Meaning of Kuba Clothes

Kuba clothing has different meanings depending on the design, but they all have one thing in common—they represent nature somehow. Circles are linked to the sun and moon. Zigzags represent thunder. Straight and diagonal lines represent rain, rivers, and streams.

The Adinkra Cloth

Adinkra cloths are a traditional clothing item in Ghana. Adinkra is a sacred ancestral language that predates their trade with the Europeans. Adinkra cloths are made of cotton and richly patterned. There are many different symbols on the clothes, but they are split into two groups—adinkra and aroma. Adinkra symbols are designed using charcoal, whereas atoma symbols are made using a piece of chalk.

Meaning of Adinkra Clothes

Adinkra cloths held many different meanings. Each symbol represented a concept, a person, or an action. For example, a circle symbolises the sun, and a solid circle represents the sun in its entirety. Three solid circles in a triangle represent the three groups of people (Akan, Ga-Dangme, and Ewe) who lived together in peace. One big circle surrounded by many tiny ones represents children and the unique relationship that only a parent and child can have.

The Bògòlanfini or Mud Cloth

Bògòlanfini or mud cloths are a special type of fabric unique to Mali. The Bamana people developed the technique for making these fabrics. The fabric is actually made using natural clay, which is believed to have medicinal properties.

Meaning of Bògòlanfini Clothes

The bògòlanfini cloths have different meanings depending on the symbols on them. The symbol of a fish represents good luck and abundance. A circle made up of tiny squares means health and family. A square with four dots inside represents the earth, and a square with five dots represents the universe. Five squares arranged in a cross represents the cardinal points.

Why Choose African Clothing

African fabrics are part of the culture of West Africa and the rest of the continent. The fabrics have intricate designs, which have different meanings. Whether you know the meanings, wearing African clothing is a great way to show off your African pride.

Nkiti African Clothing is a UK-based clothing designer specialising in designing casual African wear. Our vision is to create modern, high-quality clothing that pays homage to our rich African ancestry. So, if you're looking to buy Kente cloth in the UK, we've got you covered! Browse our collection now!

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