Sunday, 25 September 2011

Traditional Dress: The Kaba and Slit.

The Kaba and Silt one of many Ghanaian traditional dresses, for women.  It is the most popular traditional dress worn by women simply because it looks elegant.

The Kaba a slit originates from the loose tunic like top worn all over Africa since the beginning of time and a loose cloth which women wrapped around their chest or waist and folded at the top to keep it firmly around the body. This wrap cloth evolved into a piece of cloth with strings that made it’s fitting safer. This then transgressed into the sown fitted skirt still with a string at the waist to tighten and loosen it, with a slit either on the bottom back or on the side for room for movement.
The top of the Kaba also evolved and darts were place in the middle to make it more fitted and a zip was placed at the back. An extra piece of cloth called ‘akataso’ in Twi, goes with the Kaba, big enough for a woman to wrap around herself, put over her shoulders to keep her warm, fold into an extra head scarf, or use it to carry a child on their back. 

A Kaba usually is worn by women over 20 years old, for occasions and celebrations like naming ceremonies, parties or funerals.  For special positive celebrations like weddings, Ghanaian women like to wear a Kaba made with ‘Kente’. Kente is a hand weaved fabric of many colours and designs which originates from Ghana. It is centuries old and most of its designs have a meaning. Including the Zig-zag, which represents the split of the Oyoko clan, the royal clan of the Ashanti (pronounced as ‘asan -ti’ not ‘ashanti’), in the late 20th century; members of the clan are now live in different parts of Ghana and the Ivory Coast.  The Kente cloth originates from the Ashanti kingdom and was created by weavers after watching a spider weaving its web. Kente is made with silk and cotton; its beauty has made it very popular around the world, especially with people of African origin. Prints of Kente are now also very popular.
The other special day that Ghanaians like to wear their Kaba is on Sundays. Ghana is dominantly Christian and the people of Ghana like to dress up for Church; a bit like wearing your Sunday best. On the way to the church you see an array of designs and colours; the women looking beautiful. The Kaba is fitted and brings out the classic shape of a woman. I once gazed at a man who was watching some women in their Kaba’s going for an occasion and truly I wished I could help by fanning him; he was getting too hot.  Ghanaian women have immense creativity and are always drawing or describing their own ideas for their Kaba’s. An occasion is an excuse for a new Kaba. Seamstress and tailors are many in Ghana because everyone goes to them with their design and in a few days or weeks their Kaba is ready.  Seamstresses do usually suggest ideas also and there are now many posters available to buy at the market with pictures of the latest Kaba designs. Due to the great creativity of the women, rarely do you see two women wearing the same style Kaba.  

The Kaba has gone through its fashion changes; there are the classic simple designs, like a fitted top and skirt with a variation of necks which will always be around. The fabric, batik, used to create the designs also affects the whole look.  The lists of designs are never ending, an example being in the eighties when it was the time of the power woman. The designs from then are truly worth seeing. They included the bird feather-like sleeves, the pointed sleeves and sides looking like an alien form Mars, the puffed up sleeves so big they seem to engulf the wearer at times, and the belovered shoulder pads. Other bold and brash designs are a wonderful reminder of the eighties. Just imagine the make up, the hair, the colourful prints and these bold designs; the eighties will remain in our hearts for some time to come.  In the nineties the designs became simpler again and in the 2000, the designs are becoming more classic but more creative. Necks are created with numerous amount of styles, from the round, square, v-neck, to a net like neck or even a sleeveless kaba which leaves room for further creative designs at the neck.  Recently the most popular style has been what is called the fish- tale slit. This emerged in early 2004, where the back of the slit(the skirt), was gathered with extra cloth  to leave more room for movement. This has now evolved into the all round fish like bottom; originally started by the Muslim women in Ghana who liked to have more room in their slit. Today sleeves are of a variation of designs and lengths, and designs like frills and shirt like designs have come and gone. World fashions also affect Kaba styles as they inspire designs.

The Nigerian traditional way of dressing has also, become a norm in Ghana. The wearing of laces, the ‘cele’ ,the elaborate and numerous in designs headdress, and the loose style type top with long sleeves which is the traditional way of sewing the Nigerian dress, closest to the Ghanaian Kaba and Slit. Both cultures now pinch ideas form each other and with the growing number of Nigerian living in Ghana, the mixture in a daily preference of traditional dress very common.

When it comes to fabrics for the Kaba, the batik cloth is it.  The colourful batik cloth and its array of designs, from geometric patterns, to birds, plants, music waves, images of people and objects, is truly African. The batique cloth did not originate from Asia as some like to say but from Africa. There are batique style prints dating back to the 11th century in Africa. The arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th Century to Africa to trade, led them to take many the batiks, to sell in Asia. They became so popular in Asia, that Persians(Iranians), Indians, Indonesians an even the Japanese started to copy the prints and create their own designs which the Persians especially were good at doing. The batiks became very popular in England too, it was the time during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first. The English later demanded the fabrics so much that a ban was put on them in England because those producing it for them, especially in Asia (India) did not have the technology to meet the demands. What a shame because the batik cloth would have been a fabric worldwide worn by now.  The batik cloth is proudly African and this is why African demand for more designs and styles than anywhere else.  Just As it was in the 15th century, the batik cloth is still produced in African, Asian and some European countries and they sell to eachother but mainly to people of African Origin. The copying to designs continues but governments are now trying to stop it as it is costing the designers some of their daily bread. Even the print of Kente on fabrics is now even copied in China!

Top: Kaba and Slit, A mixture of the Ghanaian Kaba and Nigerian Style with a Kente scarf (Ghana).  Bottom: Royal Man in Cloth (Wrapped)

Will the Kaba and Slit ever go out of fashion and be left behind? The answer is, never. More and more designs are being created, more fabrics are being produced. There are now fashion designers in Ghana who only work with the batik fabric and there are more of the youth becoming prouder of their traditions and also wearing the Kaba to say so or other forms of traditional dress. The Kaba can be worn on any occasion as a replacement for the universal style of dress; its versatility also keeps it in the system.

So where do Kaba styles go from here? Well beaded sleeves, sewn onto the sleeves, are delicately emerging into the system. I will not be surprised to see precious stones being used in the same manner. Shifted button lines to the left or right may appear and a play with angles on different parts of the Kaba; like the eighties, but more refined. The creativity of the Ghanaian/African women has no end and this keeps the Kaba and Slit reigning forever.
The first ever Ghana fashion week will be taking place this year, so do look out for it. Visit Ghana to see the live shows; chain shop owners come and place orders for some of the beautiful designs you are bound to see.  From, clothes, to shoes, handbags and much more. Visit Ghana for fashion which can compete with Milan, Paris, London and New York in quality and style.  Ghana is hot at the moment so come and catch a spark at Ghana’s Fashion week; if not you’ll regret it later. 
Anyama Buabeng  05-06-2008

Traditional Wear


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