The kanga—beautiful woven cotton worn by women along the coast of East Africa. More than just another pretty piece of fabric, as writer Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein suggests, the kanga is also a means of communication.
For students: We hope this guide sharpens your reading skills and deepens your understanding.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from AramcoWorld, by teachers at any level.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson: L9-10.2, W.9-10.21 (see details below).

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—Julie Weiss


"Kanga's Woven Voices: The Medium and the Message"

The kanga—beautiful woven cotton worn by women along the coast of East Africa. More than just another pretty piece of fabric, as writer Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein suggests, the kanga is also a means of communication. In this lesson, you will read about kanga, and by the time you finish these activities, you will be able to:
  • Explain how and what kanga communicate.
  • Compare and contrast kanga to other forms of communication.
  • Apply your understanding of kanga as communication to your own clothing.
  • Design your own kanga.
What Do Colors and Patterns Communicate?

Start by  looking at the 12 photos of kanga laid out in the middle of the story. Before you read the captions, just look at the kanga. Divide yourselves into groups of three or four. Have each person choose one of the kanga that is especially liked. Imagine yourself wearing it. Think about what its colors and designs mean to you, and what you would communicate to people by wearing the fabric. Start with the colors, as they convey different meanings. Some of those meanings are personal (maybe there's a particular shade of blue you wear when you're sad, for instance). Other meanings go beyond the individual and are held by a great many people. In some cultures, for example, red is seen as very bold; white is pure; or blue as calming. Looking at your chosen kanga, what do the colors mean to you? What would you be expressing by wearing them? Share your answers with your group. Have group members weigh in about their own associations with your color(s). What meaning do they see in your kanga?

In a similar way, patterns can also convey meaning. What do stripes, or plaid, or polka dots mean in your world? What does the pattern of the kanga you chose mean to you? Again, share your answer with your group.

What Do Words Communicate?

Now go ahead and read the captions that accompany the photos. The written words on each kanga are translated. Most of us are probably most familiar with thinking of words as the way to communicate. How does the saying on your chosen kanga compare to the meaning you attached to the color and pattern of the kanga? If it does not match up with what the kanga means to you, what would you rather it have said?

You and your peers are likely to wear, or see others wearing, clothes with words on them. As a class, make a list of some of these words. When you have a list, try to generalize about the categories of words you see, such as sports teams, places or different kinds of slogans. Do you wear any clothes with words on them? If so, why do you do so? What do you intend to communicate to others by wearing what you do? The article says that the text on kanga can provoke or mediate conflict. Looking at the words on your clothing and the clothing of those around you, do you see such possibilities? Find one or more examples of slogans on clothes that fuel controversy or soothe tensions.

Other Meanings That Clothes Convey

"Kanga's Woven Voices" gets a little less literal when writer Lichtenstein says that kanga can chronicle a woman's life or hold her history and the history of her society. As an example, reread the part of the article about Mariam Hamdani's kanga collection. Do you have any clothes that, like Hamdani's, remind you of a certain time or place? Put another way, do you have stories that go with any of your clothes? If you do not, ask someone from an older generation—a parent or grandparent—if they have any clothes that they cherish and save because they associate it with a story or memory. Share with your classmates your own example or what your elders have told you.

Culminating Activities: Kanga, Text Messages and Social Media

Choose one of the following activities to synthesize what you have learned in these activities.
  • In the article the author suggests that kanga are similar to more modern, familiar forms of communication. She refers to the writing on the kanga as "text messages," and the giving and getting of kanga, with their messages, as "social media." Write a short answer to the question: In what ways are kanga (or your clothes) like text messages and social media? In what ways are they different?
  • Design your own kanga on paper. What colors do you choose, and what do you hope to convey with them? What kind of pattern do you design, and again, what do you hope to communicate with it? Finally, write or choose a saying for your kanga. Write an explanation of what the kanga is meant to express and display the kanga designs with the explanations.



Common Core Standards met in this lesson:

 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

W9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.