Saturday, June 20, 2015

Chitenges - Carole's Post

For anyone visiting Sub-Saharan countries, it's impossible to not notice the wonderful fabrics worn by the women.  In Malawi and Zambia, the most common piece of clothing for women is the chitenge (in Kenya and Tanzania called the kitenge), and certainly every women in the bush wears them and  many of the women in the cities.  The chitenge is a rectangular piece of fabric, 2 x 1 meters (3.25 ft x 6.5 ft), which means the width of the cloth is long enough to cover a woman more or less from her waist to the ankles.
They are frequently worn with T-shirts or any type of western shirt or top.

You don't just see chitenges on the street, but also on the clotheslines, making our walks in the neighborhoods far more colorful.

At least half of the chitenge fabrics are in earth tones and not the bright colors I like, but they have grown on me, and now I am constantly seeing patterns that I like.
And there is such variety of colors and patterns. 
 Photos of political leaders, both present and past are very popular.Today I saw one with the explorer David Livingstone. Many have slogans or scriptures.  Mother's Day also seems to be a popular theme.

Chitenges are generally wrapped around the waist and tied as a sarong.  You might wonder if they ever fall....not exactly, but all day long women are untying and rewrapping and retying their chitenges.  
Clothing is always worn underneath, but it can cover up a shabby or dirty skirt or pants.  They can also protect good clothes, just as an apron can do.  

You can see they come in very handy when you need to sit on the ground, such as at this branch social.  Each time I have attended a funeral, I have wished I had one to sit at the cemetery for hours. 

Sometimes they are worn high.

Frequently,but not always, that means the wearer is pregnant.  

Sister Phiri just gave birth to little Watipaso and I didn't even know she was pregnant!

Western women usually cover the tops of their bodies but show their legs (and sometimes thighs) in shorter skirts.  In Malawi, where breastfeeding openly is not an issue, the tops frequently are not what we would consider modest. However, the women always keep everything covered from their midriff to below their thighs.  That should never be shown in public!

One of the most common uses of a chitenge is to make a custom sling for an infant or toddler.  It can hang at the front,
or slung over the back with little legs hanging out or tucked in around mom's waist.

Here are two of my favorite moms and babies:

Sister Banda with Cornie

Sister Chikapa with Nimrod

Sometimes a mom can be breastfeeding with both hands free.  I recently saw a young woman with two chitenge slings - a toddler on her back, an infant breastfeeding in front, and she was carrying something on her head!

Now that the weather has turned cooler, I see more and more women (and little girls) wrapping themselves in a chitenge for warmth.
George and I observed this while sitting in our car waiting to meet up with a member.  It looked like a female workers' shuttle (and they were cold).

Sometimes women wear them wrapped around their heads like a headscarf.  Usually, when they are worn on the head, it is to cushion and steady the heavy load a woman is carrying.

Most of the fabrics are now imported but a few factories remain in Malawi.
Chitenges can be made into skirts, ties, and shirts.
Sister Proctor had this beautiful dress made.

Even though all the markets sell chitenges,  I love going to Lambats Variety Centre and Toppers - it is the best store in Blantyre for chitenges and is a visual treat, since the fabrics hang from rods across the ceiling and on all the walls.

Here are two of the chitenges I purchased.

I knew I wouldn't be wearing them (at least not on a mission) and we had just moved into a house with big white walls. Soooo, I get to look at them every day and I love it!
We have said good-bye to several sister missionaries and there is no doubt that almost all the Westerners get hooked and take home a load of chitenges.  I haven't started a collection yet, but I feel it coming on!