Friday, February 26, 2016

Scored! Maasai shuka


While I was in Kenya, it seemed like all the cool kids were wearing some Maasai shuka cloth. Traditionally worn as a wrap by Maasai men and women, these cotton blankets have been marked out as being an identifiably 'African' look. Usually found in the striking red color favored by the Maasai people, they can come in a variety of plaid or checkered patterns.

I haven't yet obtained my favorite variation: red base with a wide bright blue check pattern. I prefer to think of the basic check as being 'identifiably African' because the variations that introduce tartan elements in multiple colors start to remind me of Scotland.

It seems that the shuka has become a hip cloth due to many young Africans (myself included) looking to their heritage for aesthetic inspiration. The Maasai themselves began to replace animal skin wear with this commercial fabric in the 1960s. I'd like to know more about what began that transition. Based on how enthusiastically other types of textiles have historically been assimilated into the African lifestyle, I can only guess that the commercial processes that make these cloths so bright and bold (as well as their durability, ease-of-care and affordability) made them an attractive option for the Maasai.

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