Sunday, 25 September 2011

The 'Kaba (top) and Slit (the skirt)' - The Origin. The Traditional Dress of Women in Ghana

The answer is one of the mix Ancient Empires of Africa, especially, West Africa, Ghana, Mali, Carthage, Nubia-East and West. “Through trade and civilisation cotton and linen fabrics were being produced by these empires to be mostly worn by the elite, as they had the money hence could afford it. “The route taken by traders of the Maghreb to Ghana started in North Africa in Tahert (Country), coming down through Sjilmasa in Southern Morocco. From there the trail went south and inland, running parallel with the coast, then round to the south-east through Awdaghust and ending up in Kumbi Saleh – the royal town of Ancient Ghana. Inevitably the traders brought Islam with them.” As well as bringing Islam with them Islamic designs created with the use of thread of a variation of colours. Fabrics were being traded off in countries that did not make the specific fabrics, but bought them. An example being Berber (North African) blankets being found in caves in Mali in the 11th century AD.  Cloth was used for a variety of designs including tunic type tops, hats, wraps, to name a few. The origin of the Kaba (top) and Slit (skirt) is of a two piece of cloth that was wrapped around the bottom half of the body to create a skirt and also a sash or tape placed around ones waist to keep the wrap in place. The top half of the Kaba was like a basic Top/ T- Shirt with two openings (slits) on both sides for ease of movement. The evolution of the two piece cloth from just a cloth used to wrap around the base of the body, and the basic top originates from the theory of simply wanting to make the top more fitted and the two piece cloth being sown at the sides to make it into a skirt. Progression of style included darts descending from the middle of either the back, side, or the front of the garment from the bust line through the waist to the hips of the Kaba to make it more fitting and flattering to the female structure. To have the perfect “darts measurement”, a woman’s chest, bust, waist and hip measurement had to be measured in order to get the fit right. The “princess line” is yet another name for a darts system which runs from the arm pits, right under the bust, in a curve on both sides straight down to the hips. Also in the rules of the darts, “normal darts” running in the middle can be converted into a “princess line” dart system.   
The Kaba is worn with an ‘akataso’, a at least a two to three yards of cloth usually wrapped around the waist and used for extra warmth like a shawl, carrying ones baby on the back or even carrying money by tying it in the cloth.  A head dress was also worn, is made out of a metre or two of cloth. So the Kaba is a dress of a three-piece.
The Kaba style design is perhaps unconsciously produced by women all over the world from West Africans to, Greco-Roman women, to the Thai traditional dress. Batik and Tie and Dye cloths are mostly made of cotton, is what is used to sew a Kaba.  The Batik cloth has made its mark so much in Africa that there is a great assumption by some that it is only worn by Africans nowadays. The origin of the batik cloth is African and was taken to Asia by the Portuguese in the 15th century AD, and copied, mass produced, new designs thought of and through trade also sold in Africa very much like the batik trade presently.
Today in Ghana the Kaba is celebrated as much as it was 50 years ago. As one grows the beauty of the fabrics and designs lures one into loving the Kaba and Slit. With a greater awareness and pride in our culture today, Ghanaian women are proud to wear the Kaba and it compliments our women’s figures very well. Also the women like adding their own twist to the designs. New designs are often created, photographed, made into a wall chart and is bought by everyone. Creative ideas come into Kaba designs almost every day.  Some of the popular styles of today are the collar going off the shoulder to create a hand for the top of the Kaba, a short shirt type sleeve, even simply sleeveless with a “V” or round neck (favoured very much by the younger adults). The skirt is either in a panel/fish slit or a slit cut on the side and the traditional slit style remains.  For those wanting some new style ideas how about braiding the sleeveless arms like hair or adding some metal to make the middle even more corset-like to your size please and adding some embroidery (small, very detailed) to the whole of the fitted area from below your bust line downwards; it would look excellent on a plain quality fabric. There is even using jewellery for the sleeves. Remember you read it here first! The versatility of the Kaba is what also makes it well liked; one can wear it to any occasion.  The Kaba and Slit will always keep its basic structure of a ‘skirt and a top’; while numerous ideas are applied to it to create the designs of the Kaba and silt we know today.

Posters of some Kaba Designs. 
 More picutres to come without the blur of a flash light.

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