By Andualem Sisay Gessesse- Here in Ethiopia Today September 11, 2022, we are celebrating our new year – the first day of the year 2015 according to the Ethiopian Calendar. For those of you who may find this odd, I want to tell you that Ethiopia is the only nation in Africa with its own Calendar and alphabets. On this holiday I just want to reflect on African countries traditional clothes.
As we all know like other traditions, traditional cloth of a country can be taken as an identity of a country. This is because we can easily identify and associate a person with a certain country by just looking at the traditional clothes and costumes he or she wear.
When it comes to many African countries, most of the traditional clothes and shirts are colorful. Meanwhile have you noticed that these cultural dresses are made of garments outside Africa. These clothes are mainly produced in India. If we take for instance the traditional clothes of Uganda, it is being imported from India. Likewise, the garment used in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire for making traditional shirts are being produced and often printed in China and India.
Now my question to African scholars is, “what were the traditional clothes of the people in these African countries before they start to use the garment produced in India by textiles machines?”
I hope you won’t say that the people in Africa were dressing leaves before they started using the Indian made garment as their traditional clothes.
Okay, you probably never thought about it and I don’t want to bother you on Sunday…But please think about it and do some research talking with elders in Africa. Please don’t google, you to avoid rubbish information by the people who dominated the narration on the search engines. For now, let me reflect on what I assume has happened.
As you know Africa where my country, Ethiopia is found in is the origin of mankind old civilization. Agriculture being among the oldest economic activities, Africans were engaged in farming various plats that can be consumed as food and used for clothing.
After the ages of covering their private parts with leaves has ended, Africans started growing weaving long grasses and palm trees. Then I think they began extracting the fibers from some plants such as from trees of banana, and false-banana, which we call it Enset in Ethiopia.
Then they found out that that cotton can be changed into thread / fiber and can be weaved to produce clothes. I think that is how Africans began dressing formal clothes.
I think then as they move from one location to another the color and designs of hand-made African clothes made of cotton keeps changing from one African country to another. Still in many African countries including Ethiopia and Côte d’Ivoire where I at least witnessed, hand-made traditional clothes are being produced from cotton.
Then since when did Africans began attaching their traditional clothes, which is reflection of their identity, with Indian textiles making machines?
With no specific dates, I think what happened is that after the colonizers, mainly the British have left the continent, the Indians are among the first ones to come to Africa for business and trade.
Of course, historians say that the trade relation between Africa and India has been there for many centuries. In any case what I think happed has happened after the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of mass-producing textile making machines.
I guess smart rather Indians with entrepreneurial mindset have began copying the African traditional clothes designs so that they can produce in India and import back to African countries.
I Think it is since that time that African countries started attaching their identity with Indian textiles making machines.
The fact that mass production makes products to be available cheaper than hand-made, and the fact that these machine-made clothes are so shinny and attractive I guess makes them more preferable by many Africans.
That is why I think the hand-made traditional African clothes are replaced by imported garment. This practice started by Indian business people, which today are Ugandans, Tanzanians, South Africans by nationality. Following on this practice the Chinese have now started importing printing Ethiopian traditional clothes taking over the job of our mothers and farmers.
Now you may wonder what I am trying to communicate with this article. What I am trying to say to policy makers in Africa is simple, “stop whatever you are doing! And think”.
What I am saying is, you can’t give blind eye to the fact that African colonization is shifting from the Western gradually from the Western to the emerging economies – India and China.
I am saying this because if such practice continues as now China is now replicating the Indian practice by exporting printed traditional garments to many African countries including the Ethiopia, the Africans who used to cultivate cotton and produce African traditional clothes are kicked out of business. I leave this to our African policy makers what the implication of this means.
But my suggestion to pour policy makers is that even though you can’t save the fertile lands of Africa from being occupied by the emerging economies sooner of later, at least save your identity by designing an appropriate policy that incentives Africans to just import the Indian or Chinese textiles making machines to start producing their cultural clothes at home.
By doing so I think you returned the power to Africans to define their identity at it used to be back in the old days. That is my call today for all African policy makers – “Stop whatever you are doing! And think”.
When you do that at least we know that you are aware of the fact that Africa is losing millions of jobs, and the risk of Africa’s land suitable for growing cotton indirectly prepared for grab by the multinationals and global brands engaged in the textiles industry ultimately leading to the new slavery of African people.
Now I am done with this article and wish you all a Happy Ethiopian New Year 2015 (September 11, 2022)!