As Malawi progresses in fashion, it is crucial to know where the country is coming from. In the early 1800s, women wore tree barks which were beaten up to a cloth that would cover some areas of the body leaving the back and upper area of the torso open.
When I spoke to some older friends, one of them being Malawi first president the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s official hostess Mama Cecilia Kadzamira, they told me Malawi has come a long way. In my research, I understood that children walked bare, with no clothes and if at all, they would just cover the lower front area of their bodies.
In my research, I am told the clothing era in Malawi begins with the cloth called nyanda which originated from the tree bark. Then there came a thick dark cloth called satana (Satan) because of how dark it was. With satana, women were covering their whole body up to the shoulders, typically seen now in the villages when women are coming from taking a bath.
After some years, there were cloths like chita, biriwita then the famous Nkhanga. These came from the sea traders who started bringing fabric and contributed to the beginning of civilization of fabric and style in the nation.
Nkhanga was a black fabric with white dots just like the bird nkhanga found in Malawi.
Eventually with progression and accessibility of clothing, fabric and sea traders, cotton fabric was beginning to surface in the country where women would design pleated dresses decorated with lace and some new ideas of fashion started coming. For example, women would put on the dress and then put a white cloth folded in a triangle and they would wear it on their waist on the back.
To compliment the clothing, women wanted to look beautiful on their faces, thus they made tattoo-like marks called mphini to enhance their beauty. I remember my grandmother having these marks in different colours and she was light in complexion which made her look so beautiful.
The men covered up in the same clothing and their tribe differentiated them from the other. For example, the Ngoni would carry the spear, shield and wear the cloth across their body from the shoulder down around their waists. Showing their masculinity with their strong arms and stature in the society, according to their responsibilities in the villages.