Nkwichi Blog

Wrapped in a Capulana

Travelling in Mozambique can present a striking picture of bright clashing colours of rectangles of 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 the life of the Mozambican woman!

A Capulana is a type of a sarong worn primarily in Mozambique but also in other areas of south-eastern and western Africa. In Kenya and Zanzibar is Kanga, in Congo and Senegal pagne, in Nigeria lappa, and in Mombasa leso. A rectangular cloth usually 2 metres by 1 metre, stamped industrially in its entire surface and that differs from country to country by African motifs in contrasting colours, forms, Zoomorphic or anthropomorphic abstract and geometric patterns and figurative variables that illustrate the culture, the traditions, contemporaneity, the rituals, the ideas, the emotion, the silence, the revolt, the fight, and the passion. The Capulanas are the “female voice of silence” (Beck, 2005).

Since the establishment of the Arab/Indian trade routes, the Capulana have been in Mozambique. It was received from Indians and brought to Africa by Portuguese traders in the XV 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 hundred ways to wear a Capulana! It can be used as a skirt, dress, towel, sheet, shawl, cover, headdress, babies nappies, coat, curtains, to carry the babies on the 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 have. 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 have survived for centuries in a culture and which today won the world, the walkways and the closet of some celebrities. The capulana would be more a common fabric, if it weren’t for the printed designs, which are true works of art, full of meaning. This simple piece of cloth, became symbol of Mozambican woman and for some women, the capulana is part of everyday life.