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Zanzibar, Tanzania
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The language of kanga Zanzibar  Tanzania

The language of kanga

If you travel anywhere in East Africa, you’ll become acquainted with the women’s garment known as kanga: a bolt of cloth worn any number of ways and featuring a Swahili proverb printed along the bottom.

Zanzibari kanga are well-known all over the world. In Stone Town’s House of Wonders museum, there’s even a room dedicated to their sayings. Kanga with pleasant words (“Upendo ni tunda la moyo”: Love is comfort to the heart) are given as gifts. Kanga with warnings (“Upelelezi ni sumu ya mapenzi”: Spying is poisonous to love) can be worn as a subtle message from the wearer to another.

Kanga are sold all over the island. Depending on the size and the quality of the fabric, expect to pay between 10,000 and 30,000 Tanzanian shillings (between $8-20).

The kanga above was a gift to my mother and translates roughly to “Thank you, mother, for your good parenting.”

BE WARNED: Speak with the shopkeeper, or a translator, to make sure you know what you're getting. I bought a pretty kanga that I thought had something to do with love. It actually had more to do with promiscuity, which I eventually learned after forcing a reluctant and horrified friend to translate it for me.
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