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Kaba Days Are Here; By Poubum Lamy Ney 

Western men may enjoy their three-piece suits, and their women, whatever, while Africans look most forma l in their three-piece "agwada" - or the like. And the three-piece "sanjà" is highly reserved for their ebony women. In formal dressing

We have chosen to address what also dresses African women prominently: the "kaba," a genuine easy celebration attire still believed to be of Cameroonian conception and origin. Some shallow literature, however, does not only relate it to the Douala cultural festival, "Ngondo," but also to Emily, Alfred Saker´s wife, who, unable and unwilling to stand black women meeting naked her missionary of a husband, did design something to cover the entirety of the bodies.

This sounds like the bad old Eurocentric bla-bla-bla that impregnates the minds of many Africana; a denigration so colonial, oriented in the mean spirit of the infamous "Code Noir" edited by Colbert, signed by Louis XIV to portray blacks ever more naked than dressed.

It is illogical to accept and believe that Africans never clothed before the whites accessed their land. Is there any single African language in which the word for "dress" is so absent that it did borrow one from overseas?

Did Makeda, the famous Queen of Sheba, travel from Axum in Ethiopia to Jerusalem naked? Imagine her in no garment in front of Solomon! What of Kankan Musa who visited Mecca, or Sundiata Keita? So far, no archive has certified that Emilie Saker improved African fashion.

She would have certainly registered a patent. Joseph Merrick who definitely was even coloured from Jamaica could be more suggestive! But researchers fed with a degree in inferiority complex hardly would favour him and his wife!

We wish to uncover that the "kaba" is essentially African in nature. Just as in contact with foreign tongues, a lingua franca baptised pidgin came to be a "dress-franca" meant to cut across bodies in elegance and beauty came to exist. For women only during the "Ngondo" period or not.

And it is still more pronounced in pidgin; "kaba" appropriated the English "cover" from where it tapped its most popular name. Till today, varieties of serving patterns suit all desires and occasions from wake-keepings to marching past, through travelling attire, relaxation and home outfits.

"Kaba" is the most genuine common product in this era of cultural metissage we live. Most of all, in this era of melting-pot Cameroon. Which woman isn´t at ease in it? - a mi-formal African female dress-pattern par excellence, most often than not made of African cotton material, no matter where it is printed in the world. Nowadays, it graces merry-making days including the International Women´s Day, the African and Rural Women´s Day… which could as well just be called KABA DAYS!

In KABA enter all breasts adequately, saved from the constraints of bras. In addition, wearers of "kaba" keep voyeurs away as they gain much freedom in sitting positions, armed with deep pockets for purses and cellular phones. So practical a dress. It does merit a song in dress-making achievement.

To end our attention on "kaba" that goes as far as solving all K or X legs, our latest research in cultural attributes and meanings is leading us to the fact that the original "kaba" silently copied the pattern of the pastors´ gown or cassock.

Hence, probably, its early solemnity praised during come-togethers like the "Ngondo" feast. However, "kaba" has reached a point of no return: the national colour stretching to international dimension.

So many "kabas" have been donated to friends, visitors, foreigners… as contribution of Africa and Cameroon to world dressing. It does certainly sign some presence at the give-and-take world cultural junction.This was both our humble KABA history and story.

Cultural Curator


The same word, kaba is used for various forms of colorful African womens dress in Ghana and Sierra Leone. A design very similar to the Cameroon kaba was imposed by the Victorian missionaries on the women of the Polynesian island kingdom of Tonga under the pretext that women´s breasts were immodest and shameful and had to be covered. It is summer in America and on some days it is so hot that I wished I could walk around bare-chested, but I would be gawked at and harassed and even arrested. A couple of years ago, a young woman was arrested for daring to breastfeed her crying, hungry baby in a public place. The real Eurocentric idea, Lamy is that breasts have been hypersexualised.

Posted by: Ma Mary

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