A Fashion Saga: Odyssey of Tanzania’s Elusive National Dress

DAR ES SALAAM — Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed wananchi of our great nation – not the wananchi in the now popular Yanga sense – of 62-plus million Tanzanians on both sides of the channel.

I stand before you today with a question burning in my heart. A question that has haunted me for years.   A question that has kept me up at night, tossing and turning in my ‘telemka tukaze’ bed.

And that pressing question is this: When, in the name of Mount Kilimanjaro, Great Ruaha river and the Serengeti Plains, will we finally witness the birth of the long-awaited national dress of Tanzania?!

I mean, seriously folks, it has been more elusive than a leopard in the thickets!

For years now, we have been chanting the national dress anthem, with nothing substantial to show for our efforts apart from a few scattered sketches on worn-out napkins.

Committees, subcommittees, and even sub-subcommittees have been assembled with the sole purpose of choosing the hue of the buttons!

“When, oh when, will our elusive national dress finally step out from the shadows and bask in the sunlight?”

We can’t help but ask our diligent Ministry of Culture, who have been navigating the intricate maze of bureaucracy like tourists lost in the Nyerere National Park – formerly Selous Game Reserve.

Are we, perchance, waiting for an astronomical alignment over Mount Meru, or a magical bridge to form from Zanzibar to the banks of Lake Victoria?  What is the holdup?!

And what of the design, you ask? Rumour has it that our national attire aims to reflect the rich tapestry of our diverse culture, drawing inspiration from all 120 tribes of Tanzania.

Is this an attempt at unity or a recipe for a fashion catastrophe?

We must all understand the importance of unity in the design of our national dress, for it reflects our diverse yet harmonious culture.

I mean, Maasai beadwork competing against Zaramo patterns? Or Safwa embroidery vying for attention with Chaga textiles? What about Sukuma and Gogo Kaniki fabrics?

So, let us stride forth in our quest for national elegance and remember – just as Rome was not built in a day, neither is the national dress of Tanzania set to be an overnight phenomenon!

And so, here we are, many moons later, still waiting, still wondering, still scratching our heads in bemusement.

I mean, how hard can it be to design a national dress, right? It is not like we’re trying to split the atom or decipher the mysteries of the universe.

We are simply trying to stitch together a garment that won’t make us look like a walking African Union assembly. May the deities of fashion bless us in our pursuit!

Consider the kanzu, for instance, which serves as our coveted national costume.

Crafted from materials like polyester, which mimics luxurious silk, the Tanzanian kanzu’s encapsulation of traditional elegance often results in it being marketed to Western and Arab countries as an Omani thobe, Yemini dishdasha, or Emirati thobe.

Within our borders, we use this term interchangeably with kaftan – a testament to the rich, interwoven cultural fabric that we Tanzanians hold dear.

And let us not forget the crowning glory of this ensemble: the intricate, embroidered cap known as ‘kofia’, or ‘baraghashia’, poised proudly atop our heads.

But believe it or not, the origins of the kanzu are as diverse as our 120 tribes, because it was introduced by Arab traders, bearing a stark resemblance to the Arabic thobe.

The audience might snigger at the sight of a tribal print morphed into a trendy jumpsuit or a Maasai shuka turned into a chic cape.

In South Africa, the national dress reflects the country’s rich cultural diversity. The Rainbow Nation, as it is often called, has a national dress that incorporates elements from various cultures.

For instance, the Zulu women’s traditional attire, known as ‘Isicholo’, is a wide-brimmed hat incorporated into the national dress.

Similarly, the Ndebele women’s colourful beadwork and the Xhosa men’s blanket wraps have also become part of the national dress, creating a garment representative of the country’s cultural mosaic.

In India, the national dress is a harmonious blend of various regional attires. The ‘sari’ for women and ‘dhoti’ for men, ordinary in many parts of the country, are considered the national dress.

However, these garments are designed and worn differently across the country, reflecting the diversity of Indian cultures.

For example, the style of draping a sari varies from region to region, with each style carrying its cultural significance.

This allows for preserving regional identities while still fostering a sense of national unity.

Malaysia’s national dress, the ‘baju kurung’ for women and ‘baju melayu’ for men, is a testament to the country’s multicultural society.

While these garments are traditionally Malay, they have been adopted by other ethnic groups in the country, including the Chinese and Indians.


In the United Arab Emirates, the national dress symbolises the country’s Bedouin heritage and Islamic traditions.

The ‘kandura’ for men and ‘abaya’ for women are simple, loose-fitting garments that reflect the practical needs of life in the desert.

However, these garments have been modernised and diversified to reflect the UAE’s multicultural society.

For example, the traditionally black abaya is now available in various colours and designs, reflecting the influence of global fashion trends.

Also READ: The Declining popularity of Tanzania Beauty Pageants

This shows how a national dress can evolve while maintaining its cultural roots.

Discussions about whether the Tanzanian national dress could overlook or replace our cultural garments may make for heated debates around pubs or in village meetings.

These garments are a living testament to our history and cultural richness. However, having a national dress representing Tanzania as a unified entity is also intriguing.

Then again, here comes some side-splitting thoughts for you….

Picture a high-stake sewing competition where designers from each tribe put their best foot forward, striving to incorporate their designs into the ultimate national dress.

That is, after years of tireless effort, countless committee meetings, and more than a few raised eyebrows, I am pleased to announce that the national dress of Tanzania is almost ready!

Yes, you heard me correctly. Almost ready. At least that is what I recently heard from the Dodoma grapevines.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Almost ready” sounds suspiciously like “not ready at all,” but trust me when I say that we are closer than ever to achieving this monumental feat.

The finishing touches are being put in place, the final stitches are being sewn, and soon, very soon, we will have a national dress that we can proudly call our own.

Therefore, my fellow Tanzanians, let us embrace this moment with the same fervour and enthusiasm that we reserve for our beloved bongo flava music or our legendary mishkaki na kachumbari’ street food.

And soon we shall celebrate our diversity, our resilience, and our unwavering spirit as we march boldly into the future, clad in the finest threads that Tanzania has ever seen.

I hear bell bottoms, ‘raizons’ and tight-fitting shirts complete with a portrait of an eagle at the back are making a comeback. Maybe we should as well get ahead of the trend this time?

From high-stakes sewing competitions to catwalk showdowns, it is a journey filled with giggles, love, and enough fabric to clothe a small army of fashion-forward flamingos.

But mind you… a comedic situation could arise if the national dress is revealed and bears an uncanny resemblance to the traditional attire of a neighbouring country.

The audience might chortle, joking about the ‘fashion espionage’ that might have occurred.

Or picture the scenario where the national dress is unveiled, unexpectedly similar to Tanzanians’ everyday attire.

The audience could find absurdity in the fact that they have been ‘national dress compliant’ all along without even knowing it!

Another funny scenario could be if the national dress is revealed as a modern, high-fashion interpretation of traditional attire.

The audience might cackle away at the sight of a tribal print morphed into a trendy jumpsuit or a Maasai shuka turned into a chic cape.

Ah, the deliciously animated discussions about waistlines, hemlines and colour combinations would ensue!

Indeed, it is an exciting, albeit amusing, journey filled with thought-provoking questions about identity, tradition and unity.

But if done right, Tanzania might have a national dress that is as colourful, diverse, and welcoming as its people.

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