Travelling in Mozambique can present a striking picture of bright, clashing colours and bold patterns. You see it all around, strung out to dry on a sisal line or draped over bushes, in every market, in a group of passengers swaying precariously on the back of a chapa (a truck offering communal transport) – it’s the ‘capulana’, the symbol and pride of the Mozambican woman!
A capulana is a type of a sarong worn primarily worn in Mozambique but also in other areas of south-eastern and western Africa. In Kenya and Zanzibar it is called a Kanga, in Congo and Senegal pagne, in Nigeria lappa, and in Mombasa leso. It is a rectangular cloth usually two metres by one metre, stamped on its entire surface. It differs from country to country, featuring African motifs in contrasting colours, forms, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic abstract and geometric patterns and figurative variables that illustrate culture, traditions, rituals, ideas, emotions, revolts, and passion. The capulanas are the “female voice of silence” (Beck, 2005).
Since the establishment of the Arab/Indian trade routes, the capulana has been in Mozambique. It was received from Indians and brought to Africa by Portuguese traders in the 15th Century as a means of trade for other goods. Today, there are many kinds of capulanas of various designs, patterns and colours and they can be used in a variety of manners.
There are so many ways to wear a capulana. It can be used as a skirt, dress, towel, sheet, shawl, cover, headdress, baby’s nappy, coat, curtains, to carry a baby on your back, and almost everything else a piece of cloth can be used for. They have a high value and women measure their status by the number of capulanas they own.
Women and girls covered with these colourful cloths give life and colour to the dirt roads that cross the monotonous savannah landscape, the traditional African ceremonies, or to the streets and markets of African cities. The use of colour is so unrestrained it pushes all concepts of compatibility of shade and tone into oblivion. A painter might attempt for years to achieve such an effect and yet a child of five here knows intuitively and effortlessly how to pick out wild and wonderful colours and wrap herself in them.
Regardless of its origin, it’s an amazing fabric and so simple that it has survived for centuries in the African culture, and today is featured all over the world, the walkways and the closet of a number of celebrities. The capulana would be more a common fabric, if it weren’t for the printed designs, which are true works of art, and full of meaning. This simple piece of cloth has become a symbol of Mozambican women and for some women, the capulana is a huge part of everyday life.
Discover the rich culture and beauty of Mozambique on an unforgettable trip to Nkwichi Lodge.
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