7 mins

Your guide to East African textiles

To celebrate their current exhibition, Social Fabric: African Textiles Today, the British Museum shares the pick of its African textile collection

AIDS kanga (British Museum)

AIDS kanga

Kangas are often used to spread messages about social and political issues. This kanga shows an AIDS ribbon on top of a map of Tanzania. The inscriptions state that 'We young people declare war on AIDS because we have the capacity and the will to do it'.

(Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum)

Josina capulana (British Museum)

Josina Machel capulana

Samora Machel was a key figure in Mozambique's struggle for independence and the wife of Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel. This women's wrap (capulana) was used to commemorate her life as the 'mother of the nation'. 

(Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum)

King's Blanket (British Museum)

King's blanket

This woven blanket is often worn by men of the Sotho people in southern Africa. This design is called the 'Seana Marena' (King's Blanket) and depicts poone (maize) used to represent fecundity and prosperity.

(Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum)

Marriage kanga (British Museum)

Marriage kanga

This kanga would be worn to a wedding in East Africa. It depicts hands that have been decorated with henna, as if for a wedding in south Asian traditions. This shows the cultural links between Zanzibar and India through trade.

(Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum)

Obama kanga (British Museum)

Obama kanga

This kanga from Kenya celebrates Barack Obama's election as President of the United States of America. President Obama's father was from Kenya and he has extended family that lives in east Africa. 

(Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum)

Samakala (British Museum)


Geometric designs and bold colours are common in a samakaka, a printed textile from Angola. 

(Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum)

African Textiles TodayThe British Museum's exhibition, Social fabric: African textiles today, features fabrics from southern and eastern Africa. the exhibition will run from 14 February to 21 April, 2013 and entrance is free. The book that accompanies the exhibition, African Textiles Today, can be purchased online from the British Museum website.

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