Of Chitenges and Ankaras

So recently, I came across some Zambian Fashion Blogs and even some publications which showcased Chitenge wear and touted it as “Ankara.”

So I posted up a statement on my social media pages and my goodness it was like opening a pandoras box. 
Some comments ranged from how Zambians sometimes are so elitist that they are willing to embrace other languages at the expense of their own.

Model Nokuthula Ingwe commented:  

"They call silk silk, and we accept it. Cotton cotton, we accept it. We call it chitenge, they call it ankara, others call it African print.

 But if you're a Zambian journalist or blogger and you keep using terms foreign to your culture, in what way are you educating your readers about your own cultures?

 I'm not a blogger but I read many, and from what I've seen I believe blogs are meant to inform or educate. What are the Zambian bloggers teaching their international readers about Zambian culture?”

When you go to any Countries in Southern Africa and say Chitenge, they will know what you are talking about.
Chitenge Outfit by Kutowa Designs of Zambia

In Southern and some parts of East Africa , the fabrics are called Kanga, Wax, Telela, Ma Zambia, Kitenge  and Chitenge.

My Zimbabwean friends tell me that in Zimbabwe, the fabric is called “Ma Zambia”, (the irony).

The point is not merely about the name but about cultural identity.
How are we pushing our identity forward as a people towards our own nation and to the world.

A friend commented to say that same as we would not term nshima as pap you must not call it Ankara but chitenge .

ANKARA picture from www.weddingdigestnaija.com
If you are describing a Zambian fashion designers outfits and simply label them Ankara in that one single sentence you have made our designers look like they are copying something from another country.

Even South African celebrities Nthando Masina and her twin sister Hlelo are usually on twitter and instagram advertising “Chitenge ” for South African designers.

Mutale Kangwa says that unless you are explaining what something is , there is no need to call it by another name.

I went online and found a blog post by Nomsa Kachingwe on her blog   http://janelovesjazz.wordpress.com/.
I like how she espoused on Chitenge fabric, heres an excerpt from her article. 

"Chitenge is the Zambian name for the colourful, wax-printed fabric that is also widely known as Ankara, Dutch Wax Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Java Hollandis, and Real English Wax.”

These names are now simply wrapped up in what the fashion world refers to as African print.

The fact that many do not really know and which I must admit even I discovered just lately is that so called African Print was not originally African.

Its origins are from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), where locals have long used the technique of wax-resist dying—basically  applying wax to a cloth, and then dying over that wax to create a pattern—to make batik.

That’s why one of the largest global manufacturers of batik, Vlisco originally not only industrially produced Dutch wax prints copies of Indonesian designs, they were also  influenced by Indian-inspired British designs.

There are some authentic African Fabrics whose history is steeped in Africa such as Adire                                                                      
(tie and dye) which is indigo resist dyed cotton cloths made by women throughout Yorubaland in south-western Nigeria.

Adire which in Zambia is mostly termed Tie and Dye

Dress using Adire Fabric

There is also  KENTE" (nwentoma in Akan ) is a brilliantly colourful fabric, entirely hand-woven by Ghanaian weavers from the Akan and Ewe tribes.

Dress made from Kente Fabric

Kente cloth has its origin with the Ashanti Kingdom and is a royal and sacred cloth worn only in times of extreme importance and was the cloth of kings.

Every design has a story with a proverbial meaning, giving each cloth its own distinction.

Ghanaians have stuck to its name, they never changed its name and the rest of the world knows what kente is.

Just like we know what a sari is.

My argument here is on proprietary, ownership if you may. The word Chitenge or Kitenge as some Congolese may call it is distinctly Zambian and Southern African.

I talked to Towani Clarke who is creator of the Kutowa Designs
famous for using chitenge designs in a fun, beautiful way.

My Dress of course done by Kutowa Designs

Towani  has showcased at various fashion weeks like Swahili fashion week  and her strides towards putting Zambian Fashion on the map have led to her nomination at the International Achievers Awards in the category of best Female designer.

So what better person to weigh in on this discussion then her and she says;

Kutowa at the Swahili Fashion Week

"Yes, I prefer to use the term chitenge because it is ours. 

Ankara is what West Africans call similar kind of fabric, but I feel there are subtle differences in our taste so you can sense which fabrics are from West Africa and which Southern Africa or Zambia.

Of course there are overlaps. Also in the South we tend to look up to West African design to the point we sometimes just copy their styles hence all the those sheets of West African and Nigerian designs sold on the streets."

Then here’s the punchline from her statement that I love;. 

I say let us chart our own course with our chitenge that reflects who we are as Zambians, Southern Africans.


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