Commemorative Cloth, T01X0003
Posted: Jan 8th, 2020 | Collection Spotlight

This week, our object of the week post was written by Brenna MacPhee, and she has chosen a kanga cloth from Tanzania!

Used as both clothing and decorative art for around the home, kanga cloths are a beautiful way of interacting with the history of colonial and post-colonial East Africa. This particular cloth, made in 1971, tells us about the years after independence, state building, and public commemoration. The text in the centre reads miaka 10 ya uhuru, or “10 years of freedom” in Swahili.

In the centre there are visual representations of the “modern” nation state, including a wood-frame house with windows, doors and electric light; a book, presumably symbolizing the significance of education; and a syringe and stethoscope, as well as other medical instruments, symbolizing the advances of medicine and science in the nation. In the distance, we see the territorial outline imprinted against the setting sun, with the flag planted within it, as a clear signifier of laying claim to land. Surrounding these visuals is a border of cotton, one of the largest markets in Tanzania. We also see representations of natural resources in the four smaller circles surrounding the centre, and throughout the border. This piece can be read as a claim to territory and the wealth of the nation, finally under Tanzanian control, after a long period of colonial occupation, as well as a roadmap for the future concerns of the independence government.

Check out our database for more beautiful examples of commemorative cloths from both East and West Africa!

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