African fabric mostly referred to as “Kitenge” is one of the most adored attires today. The fabric was mainly known for making gowns for women, but now it has transformed and is used to make bags, shoes, trousers, suits, caps, hair bands, bangles and even earrings.

“Kitenge” or “chitenge” is an East-African and Central African fabric similar to a sarong. Sarong is a large tube or length of fabric often wrapped around the waist, worn in the indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, east Africa and on many pacific islands.
“Kitenge” or “Chitenge” is often worn by women and wrapped around the chest or waist, over the head as headscarf, or as a baby sling. “Kitenge” is a colorful piece of fabric, the printing on the cloth is done by a traditional batik technique which is either done by drawing dots and lines of the resist with a spouted tool called a ‘tjanting’ or by printing the resist with a copper stamp called a cap.

These designs are known as wax prints and are equally as bright and detailed on the obverse side of the fabric. “Kitenges” are similar also to “Kangas” of East Africa and “kikoy” but are of thicker cloth and have an edging on only a long side. Many of the designs have a meaning, a large variety of religious and political as well as traditional designs are found.

“Kitenges” serve as an inexpensive, informal piece of clothing that is often decorated with a huge variety of colors, patterns and even political slogans. Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Liberia, Rwanda, Senegal and Democratic Republic of Congo are some of the African countries where “Kitenges” are found. In Malawi, Zambia and Namibia,”Kitenge” is known as “chitenge” and are sometimes worn by men around the waist in hot weather. In some countries like Malawi, “chitenges” are never worn by men until recently when the president encourages civil servants to buy Malawian products by wearing it on Fridays.

“Chitenges” can be used on occasions and in many ways either symbolically or for practical reasons. “Chitenges” are used in different settings to convey messages. The following list demonstrates uses of the cloths.
In Malawi, “Chitenge”s are customary for women at funerals. They are used as a sling to hold a baby across the back of a mother. They can hold the baby at the front as well, particularly when breast feeding. “Chitenges” are given as gifts to young women. They are sometimes tied together and used as decorative pieces at dinner tables.
When women go to the beach, often the “Chitenge” is wrapped around the bathing suit for modesty or to shield cold air. “Chitenges” can be framed or otherwise hung up on the wall as a decorative batik artwork. “Kitenges” have also become very popular as fashion statements in urban pop culture with youth in Africa. “Kitenges” are incorporated in clothing items such as hoodies, trousers, and accessories such as bags.

You may be asking if there is a difference between Ankara and “Kitenge”. There is no difference between the two fabrics. Most of us have the “Kitenge” and are not even aware of what fabric we have. The two clothes represent our heritage and can be easily substituted when they are not sewn.