African clothing - how people made cloth in ancient Africa, and what people wore
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Kidipede is a history and science encyclopedia for kids, with more than 2000 pages of expert answers to your questions.


African Clothing for Kids

masai cape
Masai leather cape with glass trade beads from India,
from north-eastern Africa (ca. 1000 AD)

Africa's a big place, so people had very different styles of clothing in different parts of Africa. And this page covers a lot of time, from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, so there were also a lot of changes in clothing during that time.

People in Africa seem to have started wearing clothing around 180,000 years ago, soon after homo sapiens evolved -at least, that's about the time that the first body lice got started, and lice need clothing to live in. They probably started because of an Ice Age about that time. People first made clothing out of animal skins - leather and fur shawls and loincloths. They made the first jewelry out of seashells, ostrich egg shells, and feathers.

bark cloth
Bark cloth from the Congo, in central Africa

After many thousands of years, people began to make lighter, less sweaty kinds of clothes. Probably the first kind of cloth made in Africa was pounded bark fibers. You peel the bark off trees and pound it with a rock until the fibers get soft and the hard part breaks off. This makes small pieces of cloth which can be pounded or sewn together. In Uganda in Central Africa, for instance, people used the bark of fig trees. This kind of bark fabric may be related to the development of Egyptian papyrus. People also pounded cloth from the raffia palm, as Herodotus reports in the story of the Persian explorer Sataspes.

More on African clothing

To find out more about African cloth and clothing, you might want to buy these books, or get them at your local library:

Traditional African Costumes Paper Dolls, by Yuko Green (1999).

African Girl and Boy Paper Dolls, by Yuko Green (1997).

African Textiles, by John Gillow (2003). Not for kids.

Main clothing page
Main Africa page
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Copyright 2012-2014 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated 2014. Powered by Dewahost.

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