Kitenge or chitenge is an East African, West African and Central African fabric similar to sarong, often worn by women and wrapped around the chest or waist, over the head as a headscarf, or as a baby sling.
Kitenges are similar to kangas and kikoy, but are of a thicker cloth and have an edging on only a long side. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, [Sudan]] Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of the Congo are some of the African countries where kitenge is worn. In Malawi, Namibia and Zambia, kitenge is known as Chitenge. They are sometimes worn by men around the waist in hot weather. In some countries like Malawi, Chitenges are never worn by men.
The printing on the cloth is done by a traditional batik technique. These are known as wax prints and the design is equally as bright and detailed on the obverse side of the fabric. These days Wax prints are commercially made and are almost completely roller printed. Fancy prints are roller printed with the designs being less colorful or detailed on the obverse side. Many of the designs have a meaning. A large variety of religious and political designs are found as well as traditional tribal patterns. The cloth is used as material for dresses, blouses and pants as well.
Chitenges can be used on occasions and in many ways either symbolically or for practical reasons. Chitenges are used in different settings to convey messages. The following list demonstrates uses of the cloths.
- In Malawi, Chitenjes are customary at funerals for women.
- They are used as a sling to hold a baby across the back of a mother. They can hold the baby at the front as well, particularly when breast feeding.
- Chitenges are given as gifts to young women.
- They are sometimes tied together and used as decorative pieces at dinner tables.
- When women go to the beach, often the Chitenge is wrapped around the bathing suit for modesty or to shield cold air.
- Chitenges can be framed or otherwise hung up on the wall as a decorative batik artwork.
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