When driving through the streets of Beira, Mozambique, I couldn’t fail to notice the bold brightly patterned fabrics worn by many of the local women. They are a feast for the eye. And very soon, they became the inspiration for my label, K8Afrika.
The fabric is called Capulana (sometimes spelt with a K… Kapulana), and it is primarily worn as a sarong around the waist. I’ve been used to wearing a sarong as a beach cover-up but here in Mozambique, a Capulana is worn as a skirt and is an important garment in a woman’s wardrobe. The Capulana is worn throughout the day with much pride.
Some of the women have more formal dresses made from Capulana fabric, and I’ve also seen it used as a baby carrier and for wrapping and transporting heavy loads. Local seamstresses, but more often male tailors, create beautiful dresses from this fabric. Capulanas come in 2 metres by 1 metre pieces. The shop keepers in Beira sell it ready cut or sometimes you can buy a 10-meter roll.
Capulanas are often considered as an expensive gift and the women tend to measure their status by the number of Capulanas they own!
There is a public holiday April 07th here in Mozambique. This is ‘Womens Day’ which is intended to honour one of the most important women in Mozambican history, Josina Machel. “Josina Machel was one of the many who played a significant role in Mozambique during the Portuguese regime.” 3 – 4 days before Women’s Day, Beira city becomes a frenzy of woman buying Capulanas. It doesn’t matter how little money she earns; each woman must have a new Capulana for Woman’s Day!
Some historical background
Capulanas have been worn in Mozambique since the establishment of the Arab/Indian trade routes. The fabric was received from Indian traders as a means of barter for other goods. First, they came primarily in three colors: red, white, and black. White represented the protection of the ancestors, black represented evil, and red represented the spirit of war. After this time, Mozambicans preferred using Capulanas to the traditionally-used animal skins. Due to Africa’s wildlife and environment, the most common early designs included suns, leopards, lions, the style “ndjiti” (a white and red geometric design), the style “xithango” (plaid, with the word meaning literally “condom”), and the style “ximangelani” (ducks). These styles were dominant until the advent of the Portuguese Colonial power. Today, these early styles of capulana are used primarily by “tinyanga” (witch doctors, spirit healers, “curandeiros”). “Palu,” a style with very small plaid patterns in blue and white, was also popular in early years of the capulana.
The capulana has survived centuries and today it is a wearable cloth for many woman all over the world.
This was the inspiration for the birth of K8Afrika.
Everyone needs a touch of bold colour in their wardrobe! Happy shopping!