Clothing is a means of cultural expression but is also considered a necessity of life. A necessity, not because it covers our nudity but because it can protect us from unfavourable climatic conditions. Hence, having thick clothes can save a life in temperate climes but not in the tropics. There have also been lots of sentiments surrounding the acceptability and appropriateness of clothing among many Africans, at home and in the diaspora. A lot of these sentiments have western and religious origins. So, the question remains, why do people wear clothes and what is the basis of comparison between cultures of what clothing system is acceptable and which is not? In this article, we shall explore Africa and its rich cultural heritage. We shall also explore what constitutes clothing for many Africans as well as what the future holds for nudist African cultures.
It is safe to establish at this point that Africans are not one people but a mélange of a thousand unique and independent cultures, and languages with irreconcilable customs. For instance, the Masai of East Africa would enjoy a meal of fresh cattle blood but this very idea would be inconceivable to the Egyptians. Some Himba tribes would indulge in a wife-sharing arrangement with friends but this would be a taboo for certain Igbo people. The Woodabe have a wife stealing festival and that would be considered a crime in most African cultures. The Naath people of South Sudan do not consider clothing an essential part of daily life but that won’t be true for the Moroccans. And where there are similarities, there are too many variations to miss. So, Africa, a continent of 55 countries, with over a thousand tribes will be too big to bottle up as one distinct people. Of all attempts to unify us with a single attribute, none has stuck really and even though we are considered black people, it is easy to see that all Africans are not dark-skinned, except when we excise northern Africa, then we can consider that argument again.
How did Africans dress before the invasion of the west? This is an important question and depending on how you want to look at it, it does not have a straightforward response for a number of reasons. Firstly, the west had been in contact with Africans for at least a thousand years before colonization. However, colonization can be regarded as the time the hostile and forced domination began. Before colonization, there were cross-cultural influences like the Niger Delta traditional attires that evolved over centuries of trading with Europeans. Thus, cultures with earlier contact with Europeans are more likely to have some elements of westernized clothing. Secondly, there are still many African cultures that are untouched by westernization and as such have not been directly invaded. Therefore, dress culture in Africa is a stretch with various degrees of western influence, ranging from people who don’t care at all about clothes to those who are fully clothed. Unlike in many climes, the Africans did not require a lot of clothing because of the warm climate. That still obtains till today and people who dress up for events outside their homes become seminude once they are home.