Mimi kama kanga (I, like the kanga)


This artwork  is the first in this (in progress chapter) which starts from Nankondo’s abduction at the end of the previous chapter, and tries to imagine the life that waited for her upon her arrival in the Swahili coast.

Mimi kama Kanga, 2018 directs attention to the Indian ocean as the carrier of the Kanga culture and the cultural interaction inherent in the Dhow countries of Asia, the Gulf and the East African Coast. It also tries to imagine how this interaction has had an impact on the cultural identity of people who have come carry the identity of ‘Waswahili’, a people of the East African coast, and by extension, those who speak Kiswahili. The Kanga has seen a transformation from a plain calico (dyed black or dark blue) famously known as ‘Kaniki’ which was common amongst slaves in the Swahili coast, to the Kanga as we know it today (with several variations along the way—including the black and white variant to which the garment owes its name, taking from guinea fowl) that was worn by the upper class comprising of mainly slave owners, free borns, and manumitted slaves who had moved up the social ladder. In turn, this project also attempts to trace how women navigated the interface between slave history and its ramifications and the metamorphosis of the kaniki worn by slaves who were also considered/and named ‘mshenzi’ (barbaric, uncouth) to Kanga worn by those identified as ‘mstaarabu’ (civilized/Arabised); and demonstrate the impact this experience has had on the politics around the female body.

The work exists as a video/slide projection on a printed and half dyed (dyed with henna) piece of Kanga fabric. The projection comprises of slides of images of ‘postcards from Zanzibar’ which were popularly sent from the Swahili coast to the world in the 1800s and the early 1900s and which carried images of the rather exotified ‘authentic Swahili women’. There is also sound (Njia Ungurusumbwe pt 1&2 by Siti binti Saadi) that surrounds the installation. The writing on the Kanga: MIMI KAMA KANGA, NAFA NA UZURI WANGU, translates as: I, LIKE THE KANGA (FABRIC), DIE IN ALL MY BEAUTY.