Is African Fashion History lost to us because our ancestors didn’t cast it in stone?

“I long for the preservation of our African fashion identity”. – Nick Pagemat.

I recently revisited the (not so talked about) topic of African Fashion History. And this time, I may have a conclusion about my findings so far.

Disclaimer: You are more than welcome to form your own conclusions, in actual fact, the more the merrier!

Now back to the topic.

Actually, before we go there, how about another disclaimer?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer that because I’m going ahead with it anyway, so here it goes…

Disclaimer #2: I hate 1) forming assumptions and 2) making conclusions.

But I’m going to contradict myself here a little bit because; as much as I hate that, sometimes you just can’t help it. Especially if you recognise a pattern in whatever it is that you’re looking at. So my conclusion is simply based on observation.

Also, this is a very infantile conclusion which I’m hoping, as I probe more into the topic of African Fashion History, will evolve and perhaps even change over time.

Ok. The topic.

So African Fashion History is a concept that came to my consciousness after an interaction I had with Nick Pagemat on Twitter. You’ll find out a little more about him in the podcast (I really want to get to my conclusion).

Nick Pagemat

So, through a series of tweets, Nick triggered my fascination with something I have since come to realise; is not as popular as I believe it should be. We don’t know enough about it and we definitely don’t talk more about it. Now through his “Twitter rant” (he will kill me for this), Nick touched on a very important topic. In his own words: “I long for the preservation of our African fashion identity”.

“It’s not the fashion weeks job to educate people about fashion”

I felt this so much that I invited him as a guest on For The Culture – a show I produced (more on this a little later on too. Am I getting to this conclusion or what?) – to elaborate on the topic a little bit more.

So, if we’re going to be talking about Africa’s fashion history, we would obviously need to trace it back to the ancients. And, from what I’ve picked up – I have come to the conclusion that fashion for us [African’s], was more than just clothing. It was a means of communicating. Most clothing that ancient African’s wore (with most of it translating to modern day African ‘fashion’), was just to hide certain body parts. But much of the ‘fashion’ (in this case I would say the embellishments like jewellery, accessories, etc.) was for communication purposes.

Think about the ‘Zulu Love Letter’ and how it is said that women used beads to communicate their affection to their desired partner. ‘Iqhiya’ (a head-wrap, usually black) to signify different rights of passages for Xhosa women (mourning, marriage, etc). How about the accessories that signify the different social hierarchy’s in a community, one of the most distinctive being from ‘AmaGqirha’ (so-called “witch-doctors”)? I could think of many more!

“Africa’s state of fashion is texture” – Nick Pagemat.

Many Africans know of these things whether factually or not. At some point in our lives, we have encountered them and have been taught about them. But, the difficulty in all of this lies in: how do we prove it? How do we prove it enough for it to be considered worthy to be included in formal education? Are we able to go back, far enough in history, to solicit enough evidence to form a concrete structure on this topic?

According to this interesting article by Contemporary African Art, most of what is known about African Fashion History is known through: the traditional robes handed down to tribal members; storytelling; arts and artefacts.

Nick suggested that the government should open a “black-owned established fashion institution” where African creatives should be taught of African Fashion History in Africa, by Africans. But how viable is this?

Nick Pagemat

Without revealing too much, check out the podcast and share your thoughts on the matter. Leave your comments below and let’s push the conversation even further!

“African creatives need to be taught of African Fashion History in Africa, by Africans.” – Nick Pagemat.

Or listen to the podcast from here

About the podcast

For The Culture is (or rather was) a radio show created by Lilanga as part of her Radio Production Skills Training through Radio Active Productions Publishing and was initially aired on The Wireless.

It started as part of her assessments, but due to the potential influence it could have on “the culture”, it is now in the works of being recreated as a podcast.

Episode 1 is one of six episodes that will be posted throughout the next 6 weeks, starting today, discussing topics ranging from; fashion, music, photography, etc., which are all different fields within the South African creative industry as a whole. Although the shows aired last year, the topics are still relevant today.

For The Culture is a social commentary space for issues that affect the South African creative culture. It is a space that values conversation. Everything that we do, everything that we say, is all because we want our creative industry to thrive.

Make sure to subscribe to That’s My Crown so you don’t miss a single episode!

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