A khanga is a brightly colored piece of cloth that many East African women wear. Many wear khangas over their skirts while working in the fields to keep the dust of their skirts. Khangas are also worn as head wraps.
A khanga is roughly 5 feet by 3 feet which makes it perfect for wrapping it around one’s self. Generally, there is a border pattern around all four sides of the khanga with a central design in the middle. There is always a proverb – usually in Swahili – at the bottom of a khanga. Some Swahili proverbs you may see on a khanga are: “Embe mbivu yaliwa kwa uvumilivu” which means “A ripe mango has to be eaten slowly”. “Riziki Ya Mtu Hupangwa Na Mungu” which means “One’s fortunes are planned by God”. “Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba” which means “Little and little, fills the measure”.
The word khanga is Kiswahili for guinea fowl. This came to be because khangas were originally several brightly colored Portuguese handkerchiefs, intended for gentlemen, sewn together to make a piece of cloth large enough to be worn around the body. These cloths were called khangas because the bright colors reminded people of guinea fowl. Later on, when the khanga began to be mass produced, some had a guinea fowl motif which reinforced the name khanga. The khanga cloth is a very lightweight loose weave fabric.
Khangas have been around for 80-plus years now. However, they are starting to fall out of favor as younger women prefer to dress in a more westernized style when they go out on the town.
Similar cloths are worn much the same way throughout Africa. One such cloth is called a kikoy.
I bought this khanga in Naivasha. It’s the first and only khanga I bought while I was in Kenya. I used it as a curtain, over my skirts, and sometimes to carry things in. I really wish I had bought more khangas while I was in Kenya.
This khanga is known as the “Peace Corps Khanga”. The U.S. Peace Corps volunteers have adopted it as their khanga since the proverb on the bottom is “Watu Wa Amani” which means “People of Peace” in Kiswahili. There is also a dove holding an olive branch on the khanga, another symbol of peace, which the U.S. Peace Corps uses.
This khanga is from the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. This was given to me by a relative. You can seen how the design and colors vary from the yellow khanga above.