dressMonica Cheru-Mpambawashe
This past Monday the continent united to commemorate Africa Day, a holiday when unity of the peoples across borders reign supreme.

And in many cases citizens of different countries from across the nation took the opportunity to flaunt their traditional dress, which in some cases has been delegated to occasion costumes as more and more people allow international catwalk trends and Hollywood stars to dictate dressing trends across the globe.

At a function held on the day some journalists walked away with their wardrobes upgraded when a top Government official bought them some clothing items to put on as she refused to talk to them unless they were in traditional dress!

Many Zimbabweans say that they feel out of place when confronted with the problem of what to wear when asked to wear traditional dress. Gradually outfits inspired by Nigeria and Ghana have begun to be termed traditional dress locally, although in reality there is nothing that our ancestors would recognise in the resulting get ups.

Made with fabric from China and designs from any corner of the globe, it is only perception that qualifies the outfits as traditional dress.

Perhaps the term African attire is more suitable as the outfits have been traditional in countries like Ghana and Nigeria for a long time.

According to some scholars Africa has a long history of weaving and drawings of looms have been discovered in Egyptian grave sites dating back to 2000 BC. Countries like Mauritius, Nigeria, Madagascar and Uganda have long histories of cloth weaving, dyeing and clothes manufacture.

I stand to be corrected but it appears that the same is not true for Zimbabwe where apparently our introduction to cloth came with the Portuguese traders who contributed so richly to the Shona language with words like purazi and tsapata going back directly to the Latin language.

Prior to that it is believed that locals made do with cured hides which were at such a premium that clothing items like the shashiko and nhembeshure were designed to only cover the parts that really matter at the front and back respectively. Modesty did not require women to cover their chests. Royalty and nobility were singled out by their priviledge to wear the skins of animals like lions and leopards which were forbidden for the commoners.

So if someone really wanted to go traditional in the Zimbabwean context, they would have to opt for miniscule pieces of leather held together by a couple of thongs. That would be a gigantic leap for a society which has been melded by Victorian missionary principles.

The dress problem is a conundrum of the larger picture where our present culture is eclectic and bears little resemblance to the traditions of our deceased progenitors.

The absence of defining boundaries does not give us an identity crisis but instead allows us to define the future, in fashion and other sectors of culture.

So what is wrong for us to embrace our African and identify with brothers and sisters on the continent? Simunye!