Wednesday, January 6, 2010

You Talk Too Much

"Khangas" are traditional cloths from Tanzania. Often worn as skirts or head wraps, they feature bright colors and bold prints, and always bear a proverb or other educational saying. These phrases run the gamut from everyday expressions to riddles, but the khangas with attitude are my favorite.

This one, roughly translated from Swahili states, "you talk too much." My mother brought it back from Zanzibar (Tanzania) last year and she asked me to make a tablecloth and some napkins with the fabric.

The colors, amazing and the patterns, vivid. That brilliant shade of blue is complimented by the striking black and white designs. I cut the pieces for the napkins starting at the edge to showcase the fabric's best asset—the border. I made eight napkins from one half of the khanga, and made the other half into a tablecloth. My mother had forgotten all about the fabric (yes, I suppose forgetfulness does run in the family) and we used them with Christmas dinner.

I spent a good while reading Khanga phrases online today. The vastness of the sentiments are amazing and range from scorching: "The mother-in-law resorts to witchcraft to alienate her son from his wife" (ouch!), to loving: "There is no guardian like a mother." And from blunt: "I don't want empty greetings" to contemplative: "To give is something of the heart, not riches."

I'm on board with this Tanzanian tradition of wearing convictions and dispositions like this. I have already chosen a few favorites: "Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children" and "This is the place you are looking for."

Which one would you choose?


  1. That second-to-last Khanga, "Treat the Earth well..." really struck me. I'm definitely going pass that message on!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I've learned something very new today. I like this tradition of wearing some sassy sayings. I'll have to go and look for mine to wear. It's given me the idea to knit one in a shawl or something. Have a good day.

  3. Valerie, that is a great idea! Be sure and post a pic if you do knit one! There are SO many possibilities to incorporate Khanga phrases...I was thinking of stamping them on silver, or making a sort of keepsake box with one of those on it...

    and Cin, I know, I loved that one too.

  4. Loads of great expressions and so hard to choose! Depends also on what you plan to use the fabric for? I think "This is the place you are looking for." is perfect for a tablecloth!

    Actually, the more I think about this expression, the more I love it! It seems to speak of mindfulness, appreciating the journey of life, and not just rushing towards goals and dreams?

  5. We have quite a collection of fabric from Central, West and North Africa, but none from the eastern part of the continent. I love your khangas!

  6. I'm learning about Khangas as I research 1920 Zanzibar for my 7th mystery. I want a girl to pass on a clue based on the Khanga she wears one day. The idea of communicating with Khangas is fascinating.