Friday, 27 November 2009

What women wear in Malawi: A eulogy to the Chitenje

A question I quite often get asked is what clothing do women wear in Malawi, or what is the traditional Malawi dress.

The most commonly worn item of clothing by women in Malawi is the Chitenje (also known as a Kitenge in Tanzania and Kenya).

Woman in Mzuzu market in Malawi with baby in a chitenjeWomen in Mpata village in Malawi with baby in Chitenje sling on backHere is a eulogy to the Chitenje in Malawi.

What is a Chitenje
A chitenje is a rectangle of fabric (generally 2 x 1 metres) worn by women around the waist or chest. Chintenjes are a cheap, everyday piece of clothing. They are very often covered with a great variety of pictures, colors, patterns and usually include slogans, including political slogans (especially when Hastings Banda was president).

Wearing the Chitenje
The chitenje is generally wrapped around the waist and tied as you would tie a towel or sarong. Normally clothing (certainly underwear) is worn under the chitenje and this can cover up slightly shabby clothes with the chitenje's multi-coloured fabric

Other uses for the Chitenje
Chitenje's can be worn around the head as well, wrapped in a similar way to a head towel, and is used for decoration or to cover any hair-dos that may be in progress. It is also a very useful cushion for carrying...well anything that can be carried on the head!

A chitenje also makes an incredibly useful custom sling for a baby (see the pictures to the right), and is either constructed so the baby can hang at the front, or slung over the back, with legs tucked around the side of the mum. Some of the more enterprising mothers are also able to breastfeed while the child is in the sling - allowing hands to be free for other, more imporant tasks!

To sum up - the common chitenje is a really useful bit of kit for women in Malawi, and on a final note the same cloth can be taken to a tailor and sewn into a dress, or shirt and skirt for special occasions e.g. Church on Sunday.

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