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Old April 20th, 2017, 06:20 PM   #1
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Clothing in Ancient Africa


Friends, what kind of clothing did people wear in ancient and medieval sub saharan Africa?

From what I've read so far the Africans wore a cloth covering their limbs and nothing covering their upper body. It seems that this was the case with women too.
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Old April 20th, 2017, 06:32 PM   #2

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Quote:
Originally Posted by RajputMaster24 View Post
Friends, what kind of clothing did people wear in ancient and medieval sub saharan Africa?

From what I've read so far the Africans wore a cloth covering their limbs and nothing covering their upper body. It seems that this was the case with women too.
There was a wide variety of styles depending on the level of urbanization. Even in low urban areas people could trade with those parts of Africa and even India or further which produced quality cloth.
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Old April 20th, 2017, 06:33 PM   #3
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Sub-Saharan African clothing is extremely broad and varied, and while clothing has obviously been influenced by Islam and Western powers over the centuries, traditional styles can still be found.

Kente robes from the Ashanti:
Click the image to open in full size.

Traditional Songhai clothing for women:
Click the image to open in full size.

Yoruba clothing:

Click the image to open in full size.

Kongolese clothing:
Click the image to open in full size.

Zulu clothing:
Click the image to open in full size.

As you can see, there's a variety of fabrics, styles, patterns, colors, and ornamentation, a given since Sub-Saharan Africa is equally varied in climate and ecosystems.
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Old April 21st, 2017, 07:29 AM   #4
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Carthage seemed to have contact with West Africans.
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The trade of the Phoenicians with the west coast of Africa had for its principal objects the procuring of ivory, of elephant, lion, leopard, and deer-skins, and probably of gold. Scylax relates that there was an established trade in his day (about B.C. 350) between Phoenicia and an island which he calls Cerne, probably Arguin, off the West African coast. "The merchants," he says, "who are Phoenicians, when they have arrived at Cerne, anchor their vessels there, and after having pitched their tents upon the shore, proceed to unload their cargo, and to convey it in smaller boats to the mainland. The dealers with whom they trade are Ethiopians; and these dealers sell to the Phoenicians skins of deer, lions, panthers, and domestic animals--elephants' skins also, and their teeth. The Ethiopians wear embroidered garments, and use ivory cups as drinking vessels; their women adorn themselves with ivory bracelets; and their horses also are adorned with ivory. The Phoenicians convey to them eointment, elaborate vessels from Egypt, castrated swine(?), and Attic pottery and cups. These last they commonly purchase [in Athens] at the Feast of Cups. These Ethiopians are eaters of flesh and drinkers of milk; they make also much wine from the vine; and the Phoenicians, too, supply some wine to them. They have a considerable city, to which the Phoenicians sail up." The river on which the city stood was probably the Senegal.
Judging from this and the traditional clothing of other west African groups like ameteurhistorian posted above I would think that the peoples of southern Mauritania and northern Senegal may have dressed similarly to this
Click the image to open in full size.
This is just my assumption.

This image is of the Toubou peoples during the early 19th century
Click the image to open in full size.

Wolof
Click the image to open in full size.

More from the Sahel
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There seems to be a consistency with some clothing of peoples from the Sahel during the 19th century and what the Dogon wear now
Click the image to open in full size.
I know some of this was influenced by Islamic foreigners to the territory, but to me much of this seems indigenous.

These are some Yoruba women
Click the image to open in full size.

Some of course simply wore what I guess you call loincloths, but even then some peoples in their societies seemed to wear more.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

There seems to be a wide range of dress in that vast area known as Africa, I assume you mean Sub Saharan Africa btw
Click the image to open in full size.

Also, here's some depictions of Nubians who themselves were a varied bunch of peoples.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.

I assume ancient and more recent Africa was just like every other continent in which people dressed many different ways.

Last edited by wskim; April 21st, 2017 at 07:36 AM.
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Old April 28th, 2017, 01:09 AM   #5

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The OP was talking about ancient and medieval, but we're talking about modern times above - surely there were evolutions there as everywhere else?

I think it's relevant but it's deviating slightly north into something I know - the 'berber troops' that formed much of Tariq's army are very little known about. Remembering that 'Berber' is a very broad brush we know that berbers served both the imperial garrisons in North Africa and the Visigoth garrison of Ceuta/Tangier (once it had 'defected'). So there's a suggestion that some of these were kitted out almost in imperial style and weaponry. Yet at least one historian has made a case for the dress of much of Tariq's berber troops to be in many cases loincloth and slingshot. Almost the 'cheap option' and merely what was available. This would also fit in with what we know about '711 and all that'.

Don't know. Nobody knows.

Do we know what was worn in sub-saharan Africa at that time, rather than much later? Maybe someone here has information?
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Old April 28th, 2017, 05:00 AM   #6

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Do we know what was worn in sub-saharan Africa at that time, rather than much later? Maybe someone here has information?
While there was clearly interchange down the linen producing Nile Valley from ancient times, certainly as far as the Horn of Africa and cotton introduced by Arabs across the Sahel more recently, there seems to have been no indigenous textile industry as we know it in Central and Southern Africa beyond basic and local needs. While, wild cotton has always grown in odd places and there are a number of native fibre-producing plants, like a version of kapok, they were never used as raw materials, nor did the sheep-herding Khoi people ever develop wool production, although the only other major area of sheep-raising, the Ethiopian highlands, produced woolen goods from ancient times.

That doesn't mean that people went around totally naked apart from the Strandloopers and some of the hunter gathers in the Congo Basin, basic clothing in the interior was made from bark fibres, twisted together--still produced as a tourist item in Zambia, and raffia strips, woven together to make skirts along the East Coast. Very few animals in Africa have long coats and the few that do have hair that is very coarse and spiky and totally unsuitable for clothing--a zebra mane for instance feels like the bristles of a stiff boom, so animal-based products tended to be leather or entire untreated skins.

Probably because of the very high labour input required to produce woven cloth from the raw material to hand and the beneficial climate, most clothing appears to have been reserved for ceremonial or special occasions. In Southern Africa, all the way from the Cape through to the Zambezi the first European explorers noted the minimalist dress. The Khoi must have been a bit of a sight for 15th C Catholics and 16th Century Protestants. The women typically wore only a narrow apron, although (typically of women) had bracelets, anklets and necklaces of bead. The men just leather loin-cloths. About the only other wear was the "kaross"--a cloak of a complete animal skin that doubled as a blanket or a ground sheet. In the cooler Western Cape it was usually a sheepskin with the wool still attached, further East it could be the skin of any animal. It is notable that this general clothing ensemble, with variations to show status was just about the same for almost all people, Khoi, Tswana, Zulu, Tswana, Shona.
Those early Europeans quickly discovered that of their trade goods, cloth was desired even more than copper wire, nails and later guns--linen on the way out to the Indies and cottons on the way back--woolens, with the problems of cleaning and insect attack were not popular. Both the Dutch and the Portuguese introduced dyed cotton print from their Asian colonies and a rough, loose weave cotton sheeting that is still popular today with the now unfortunate name in South Africa of "Kaffir Cotton" and stimulated the local bright designs we see in more recent times.
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Old April 28th, 2017, 05:56 AM   #7

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Originally Posted by Ancientgeezer View Post
While there was clearly interchange down the linen producing Nile Valley from ancient times, certainly as far as the Horn of Africa and cotton introduced by Arabs across the Sahel more recently, there seems to have been no indigenous textile industry as we know it in Central and Southern Africa beyond basic and local needs. While, wild cotton has always grown in odd places and there are a number of native fibre-producing plants, like a version of kapok, they were never used as raw materials, nor did the sheep-herding Khoi people ever develop wool production, although the only other major area of sheep-raising, the Ethiopian highlands, produced woolen goods from ancient times.
The idea that Ancient Egyptians introduced Linen and cotton to the rest of Africa, with all due respect, is the silliest thing I have ever heard. The idea that there was no clothing industry is sillier still.
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Old April 28th, 2017, 05:59 AM   #8

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Well there is the mud cloth which seems to date back to the 13th century in Mali. It is also known by the name of bogolanfini.

The Swahili city states were known for trading with India and bought silk from them.

I have a couple of pictures, but they are of a later period, though I think still useful.

Last edited by royal infanta; April 28th, 2017 at 06:02 AM.
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Old April 28th, 2017, 06:42 AM   #9

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The idea that Ancient Egyptians introduced Linen and cotton to the rest of Africa, with all due respect, is the silliest thing I have ever heard. The idea that there was no clothing industry is sillier still.
You might bother to read what I wrote rather than what you want to believe I wrote. I postulated that there must have been some interchange of down the Valley as the production of Linen in Ancient Egypt and the Nile valley is well known--if you know of other areas of Africa where flax could grow in pre-colonial times--do enlighten me.
I did not write that Egyptians introduced cotton to the rest of Africa at all--where did I write that?
Where was the "clothing industry" in Central and Southern Africa in pre-colonial times? Where were the indigenous fabrics and finished items?

Instead of sneering from your usual position of total ignorance, you might want to do a bit of traveling an visit places like The British Museum that has a textile and clothing section the size of three basketball courts including some of the oldest fabrics in existence from five continents, or the V&A than has constantly changing clothing and design exhibitions in its 12.5 acres of floor space--it even has a specific African section. Then there is the Cotton Museum here in Kent, the Textile museum which is keen on African subjects and the Brunei Galley at SOAS.

So what's your contribution from your great wealth of knowledge?
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Old April 28th, 2017, 07:09 AM   #10

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Originally Posted by Ancientgeezer View Post
You might bother to read what I wrote rather than what you want to believe I wrote. I postulated that there must have been some interchange of down the Valley as the production of Linen in Ancient Egypt and the Nile valley is well known--if you know of other areas of Africa where flax could grow in pre-colonial times--do enlighten me.
I did not write that Egyptians introduced cotton to the rest of Africa at all--where did I write that?
Where was the "clothing industry" in Central and Southern Africa in pre-colonial times? Where were the indigenous fabrics and finished items?
There were centers for manufacturing cloths scattered throughout the Western Sudan. The most famous being in Kano Nigeria. These centers were a part of the Tran-Saharan trade and cloth was sold to other Africans throughout the Sudan and even reached Europe in the medieval era. Heinrich Barth-the 19th century German explorer-- travelling to Nigeria gave a vivid explanation of the artisan cotton texting industry in the Central Sudan. He compared it to industrialized cloth production in Europe, stating that the one in Africa was less dehumanizing in the way it treated its workers, or something like that. It was an artisanal based cotton industry similar to India's. Here is what is left of the cloth industry in Kano, courtesy of CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/af...dye.tradition/

The popularity of distinctive blue dyed clothing of the Tuareg would make them eager customers of the stuff manufatured in Nigeria. And not just them, throughout the Western Sudan, various peoples such as the Soninke and Fula love the stuff well enough to create demand that served as a basis for a flourishing industry.

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Originally Posted by Ancientgeezer View Post
Instead of sneering from your usual position of total ignorance, you might want to do a bit of traveling an visit places like The British Museum that has a textile and clothing section the size of three basketball courts including some of the oldest fabrics in existence from five continents, or the V&A than has constantly changing clothing and design exhibitions in its 12.5 acres of floor space--it even has a specific African section. Then there is the Cotton Museum here in Kent, the Textile museum which is keen on African subjects and the Brunei Galley at SOAS.

So what's your contribution from your great wealth of knowledge?
Typical blowhard response! Trying to cover up your own embarrassing ignorance with bombast and pretentiousness not becoming of a man old enough to refer to himself as the Ancientgeezer. Whatever happened to people acting their age?

Last edited by mansamusa; April 28th, 2017 at 07:28 AM.
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