Africa is a big region, and people in numerous parts of Africa have very different styles of clothing. And this page covers many years of Ancient African Clothing. First from Stone Age through the Middle Ages. And clothing improvements took place several times during that period, too. Africans seem to be wearing a dress about 180,000 years ago, just after the development of homo sapiens. Most probably due to the ice age, African men began to wear clothes. As it was too cold to be comfortably naked in certain parts of Africa. They made clothes from animal skin, shawls of skin, wool and feather shawls first. The earliest jewellery, coats and feathers of ostrich egg used to be of seashells.
Ancient African Clothing: Bark Cloth
The first form of fabric made in Africa has possibly beaten bark fibres. They took the bark off trees and smash it until the fibres are brittle and the rough part breaks apart. It makes little bark bits that one can pound or sew together. For example, in Uganda in Central Africa people used the bark of fig trees. This kind of bark fabric can relate to Egyptian papyrus production.
Ancient African Clothing: Raffia Cloth
Africans also pounded raffia palm tissue. The Greek historian Herodotus portrays men in the tale of Sataspes explorer who wore raffia cloths.
Ancient African Clothing: Linen Cloth
By approximately 5000 BC, still in the Stone Age, Egypt, North Africa and East Africa began to spin and wove their clothing from the plant known as flax. We’re calling this type of cloth linen. Linen was more difficult to produce and took longer but was more flexible and beautiful. By 3000 BC, the workshops in Egypt made super-fine linen for sale to people elsewhere.
Egyptians also produced some cotton cloth by approximately 2500 BC. Nevertheless, they never produced a lot of cottons. Egypt was really linen specialized. People coloured the bark tissue to create all kinds of designs. The most popular colour was indigo, the hue that we all use to make blue jeans. However, there was no Indigo tree across the region so Africans paid Indian traders for indigo dye.
Pre-shaped clothing includes cutting and sewing cloth lengths to make the cloth match the body. Popular types include ties, blouses, dresses and pants or baba Riga (big gown) of the Hausa man. The production of many practised clothes was inspired by cross-cultural encounters. There are many women’s robes that demonstrate the imperial influence and trading interactions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some More About Ancient African Dress
African costumes are as diverse and varied as the historical and cultural histories of the African people in 505 countries and 800 language groups. The geographical conditions in Africa vary from the Sahara and Kalahari deserts to the Great Rift Valley mountains and Western and Central African rain forests to the arid Sahel region around Sahara. A country 2 and a half times the size of the United States.
The wearing of Africans varies due to several factors such as physical environment factors, external and internal trade and migration, the influences and creativity of explorers, missionaries and travellers. The historical, religious, and political history as well as cultural, archaeological, economic, and mercantile documents provide detailed information on the dress of each ethnic group.