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Fashioning Africa

Power and the Politics of Dress

Edited by Jean Allman

Publication Year: 2004

Everywhere in the world there is a close connection between the clothes we wear and our political expression. To date, few scholars have explored what clothing means in 20th-century Africa and the diaspora. In Fashioning Africa, an international group of anthropologists, historians, and art historians bring rich and diverse perspectives to this fascinating topic. From clothing as an expression of freedom in early colonial Zanzibar to Somali women's headcovering in inner-city Minneapolis, these essays explore the power of dress in African and pan-African settings. Nationalist and diasporic identities, as well as their histories and politics, are examined at the level of what is put on the body every day. Readers interested in fashion history, material and expressive cultures, understandings of nation-state styles, and expressions of a distinctive African modernity will be engaged by this interdisciplinary and broadly appealing volume.

Contributors are Heather Marie Akou, Jean Allman, A. Boatema Boateng, Judith Byfield, Laura Fair, Karen Tranberg Hansen, Margaret Jean Hay, Andrew M. Ivaska, Phyllis M. Martin, Marissa Moorman, Elisha P. Renne, and Victoria L. Rovine.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

From the very beginning, this project has been an extraordinary collective effort. It started as a rather vague idea early in 2001, as I puzzled over the intersections of culture, fashion, and politics in Ghana. It then came together in a wonderful set of papers presented on two panels at the 2001 meeting of the African Studies Association in Houston, Texas. I owe my most profound gratitude, therefore, to the contributors ...

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Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress

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pp. 1-10

To some, the Evening News report may seem a rather frivolous human interest story set during the most tumultuous years of Ghana’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule—a marginal slice of life tangential to the central stories of mass nationalist politics and the devolution of political power. For the contributors to this volume, however, the case of the disappearing hats is no fanciful aside. It is very much the central ...

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1. Remaking Fashion in the Paris of the Indian Ocean: Dress, Performance, and the Cultural Construction of a Cosmopolitan Zanzibari Identity

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pp. 13-30

Dress has historically been used as one of the most important and visually immediate markers of class, status, and ethnicity in East African coastal society. As one of many forms of expressive culture, clothing practice shaped and gave form to social bodies.1 This chapter explores the social, cultural, and performative processes through which women constructed new individual and collective identities ...

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2. Dress and Politics in Post–World War II Abeokuta (WesternNigeria)

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pp. 31-49

The Action Group’s loss to the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (N.C.N.C.) in the 1952 by-elections to the Western House of Assembly clearly upset those women supporters who had put on their best clothes in anticipation of a celebration. The Action Group did not plan this effort. Rather, the women’s sartorial preparation emerged from an appreciation of the cultural meaning that would ...

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3. Nationalism without a Nation: Understanding the Dress of Somali Women in Minnesota

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pp. 50-63

In the 1990s, migration to Minnesota from Africa grew by more than 600 percent.1 A large proportion of these newcomers were from Somalia. When their national government collapsed in 1991, many Somalis fled the country for refugee camps in other parts of East Africa. Today, they live in a worldwide diaspora—in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Finland, and Australia, ...

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4. Changes in Clothing and Struggles over Identity in Colonial Western Kenya

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pp. 67-83

Massive economic, political, and cultural changes followed the imposition of British colonial rule in western Kenya in the early 1900s. These included military defeat,1 the imposition of taxes, forced labor, forced cultivation, the imposition of chiefs and headmen, and the presence of foreign missionaries. These far-reaching changes in the world around them triggered changes in western Kenyans’ self-perceptions ...

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5. Putting on a Pano and Dancing Like Our Grandparents: Nation and Dress in Late Colonial Luanda

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pp. 84-103

Referring to the 1940s and ’50s at the Liga Nacional Africana (National African League) in Luanda, Pinto de Andrade reminisces about his “mais velhos”2 as they performed American-inspired dances and artistic numbers in the halls of an association dedicated to the defense of the rights of Africans. Although the Liga was an elite institution it nonetheless preoccupied itself with the conditions of its downtrodden ...

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6. “Anti-mini Militants Meet Modern Misses”: Urban Style, Gender,and the Politics of “National Culture” in 1960s Dar es Salaam,Tanzania

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pp. 104-121

On Thursday, October 3, 1968, residents of Dar es Salaam awoke to front-page newspaper headlines announcing a bold new declaration by the Youth League of Tanzania’s ruling party, TANU. As the Standard put it, “TANU Youths Ban ‘Minis’: Sijaona Announces ‘Operation Vijana.’ ”2 Announced by the general council of the TANU Youth League (TYL), this act prohibited the use of a range of items—miniskirts, wigs, skin-lightening creams, tight pants or dresses, and short shorts—as ...

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7. From Khaki to Agbada: Dress and Political Transition in Nigeria

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pp. 125-143

The shift from military to civilian rule in Nigeria is often portrayed in the press in terms of a change in dress—from military uniform, sometimes simply referred to as “khaki,” to civilian dress, often referred to as agbada (robe). Indeed, the phrase “khaki to agbada” refers specifically to this political transition, and was frequently used to describe the shift in 1999 from military to civilian rule in Nigeria (fig. 7.1). ...

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8. “Let Your Fashion Be in Line with Our Ghanaian Costume”: Nation,Gender, and the Politics of Cloth-ing in Nkrumah’s Ghana

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pp. 144-165

Kudjoe, a Convention People’s Party (CPP) activist, founding member of the All-African Women’s League and secretary and organizer of the Afro-American Ghanaian Women’s Friendship League, launched a non-governmental campaign a year after Ghana’s independence to address the problem of “nudity,” particularly female nudity, in northern sections of the new nation.2 The problem was considered an ...

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9. Dressing Dangerously: Miniskirts, Gender Relations, and Sexuality in Zambia

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pp. 166-185

Of all objects of everyday life in Zambia, a former British colony in south-central Africa, clothes are among the strongest bearers of cultural meaning both for the people who wear them and for those who perceive their dressed bodies. Widespread cultural sensibilities about gender, sexuality, age, and status converge on the dressed body, weighing on women’s bodies much more heavily than on men’s. Local ...

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10. Fashionable Traditions: The Globalization of an African Textile

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pp. 189-211

Garments, unlike other commodities, are very literally embodied; when they travel, they serve as shorthand referents to the people and cultures with whom they originated. They offer a medium by which to declare local identities and a means of “trying on” new identities. Africa is a powerful force in contemporary fashion markets, providing a source of both identity and inspiration for fashion designers around the world. ...

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11. African Textiles and the Politics of Diasporic Identity-Making

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pp. 212-226

Africans in the Diaspora have sought—in symbolic and material ways—to maintain their ties to their continent of origin ever since their forcible transportation to the Americas. Thus Diasporic Africans in different parts of the New World have sought to preserve their religions, languages, and clothing. More direct physical links have included various back-to-Africa migration movements since the United ...

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pp. 227-230

Clothing matters and dress is political. These are the grand themes that run through this collection of essays. Contributions on diverse societies with highly distinctive dress traditions affirm that everyday garments and high fashion, casual clothes and uniforms, voluminous robes and miniskirts, and a host of other styles may be terrains of power. If dress is a matter of individual choice, it can also mark larger group identity; if threatening, it can also express conformity; if worn by elites ...

List of Contributors

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pp. 231-233


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pp. 235-247

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111043
E-ISBN-10: 0253111048
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253344151

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 36 b&w photos, 1 index
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Clothing and dress -- Symbolic aspects -- Africa.
  • Women's clothing -- Africa.
  • Clothing and dress -- Political aspects -- Africa.
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