A lot of African traditional articles of clothing are colorful wrap-around garments. And shuka, Kenyan folk garment, is no exception. It is a beautiful multicolored piece worn wrapped around the torso. The shuka is so charming and cheerful that it inspires fashion designers all over the world to create contemporary clothes in the same color palette. Also, some Kenyan tribes still wear original shuka blankets as folk dress today.
Several ethnic groups in Kenya, including Maasai and Samburu people, wear a traditional garment called “shuka”. It is a rectangular piece of cotton plaid fabric worn draped around the body. Shuka is a woven blanket, very durable and thick because its main function is to protect the wearer from the severe environment of the African savanna. It covers the flesh so that sharp thorns and branches didn’t scratch it. Also, this garment can be used as a blanket or to carry kids and goods, etc.
There are many variants of draping a shuka – sort like Asian people know dozens of ways how to drape a pareo, only shuka is much thicker and coarser. Still, its rectangular shape can inspire creativity. It can be worn like a sundress, a cape, a skirt, and so on so forth.
Photo by Steve Pastor
Of course, African folk dress seldom goes without jewelry and embellishments, so add a bunch of beaded necklaces, bracelets, and earrings to finish the look.
The color of a shuka is always bright. For Maasai tribes, it’s typical to wear bright red or red&blue clothes. So, Maasai and Samburu shuka usually has a red&blue checkered pattern. Also, it can be plain-colored or striped, but the plaid design is the most popular.
By the way, history tells us that Maasai originally used leather and animal skins to make clothes, but in the mid-20th century, industrially-made cotton came to Africa and became an integral part of Maasai (and many other African ethnic groups) wardrobe. Though even before that, handwoven red&blue checkered fabric called “guinea cloth” was used in Africa in the 18th century.
The shuka cloth has inspired many a designer to create contemporary outfits with red&blue plaid pattern, so this color combination is widely used in modern fashion, not only in Africa but worldwide.