Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Duala Men's Attire

In daily life: work, parties... Cameroonian men usually wear the same clothing as in Europe, the US, Australia, and much of the Middle East and Asia: shirts, slacks, and so on.
Traditionally, however, Duala men wore, and still wear for specific occasions, a large fabric fastened at the waist called a Sandja. Originally, sandja fabric was made of tree bark, beaten till it was fine and soft enough to be draped. In Congo, a woven style of tree bark fabric is still made today, called "Kuba" cloth.
There were three different ways of wearing the sandja: Held up at the waist to form short sherwal-type pants*; knee-length; and the ceremonial style, still worn today, full-length. That is the style I saw the most, often called "Sandja Ngondo" because it is worn for the Ngondo celebration (which had not been celebrated for 20 years when I arrived in Cameroon).
My first experience of men wearing a sandja was at funerals, when men wore a black velvet cloth, with a white shirt, and 2 black scarves: one around the shoulders, and one around the waist. If the deceased had suffered a violent death, a red band was also worn around the upper arm.  (The women wore kabas, the Duala traditional dress inspired by the Protestant missionaries' influence.)

*For a short explanation of what a sherwal is, click here