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LUHYA CULTURE

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Clothes of long ago

Men: Luhya men used to wear the prepared skin of a goat or a calf. It was passed under one armpit and fastened with a strap over the opposite shoulder. The skin, hung in this position, was not sufficient to cover the whole body; what the man did was to shift it every time to cover that part of the body which faced the people he was supposed to ‘fear’ (respect). These included mothers-in-law, aunts and all women he called ‘mother’.

In addition to this skin, the wealthier people put on other items of dress. For instance, a chief had a special cap (shimwata) which was covered with a small animal’s skin and decorated with beads or cowrie shells. Sometimes they also wore a leopard’s skin and a royal bangle (omukasa) on their wrists. Ordinary men wore iron rings (ebitiiri) on their ankles and legs; richer ones might wear emisanga (bands of twisted wire).


Special occasions: During war men painted themselves with frightening colours, and wore frightening apparel such as horns. On a festive occasion they also painted themselves, though differently. Often they wore head dresses decorated with feathers of ostriches (amaudo) or with skins of the colobus monkey (ituru). More>>>
clothing
A Maragoli elder in traditional attire and below women dressed in liboya (sisal skirt).
women dressed in loboya
Women clothing

The women used to wear liboya, made of banana fibres or sisal or, for richer women (abakhaye), of animals’ tail hairs. The liboya was worn round the waist and looked like a kind of apron hanging in front and a tuft of sisal or hair strings hanging behind. It was a very important dress and had to be respected according to custom.

The women also wore strings of beads round their waists and necks. Cowrie shells arranged artistically on a leather strap were also sometimes     worn round the neck by older women. The women also wore ebitiiri on their ankles. And some wore other rings and wire round their necks or on their arms. They liked decorating themselves: some made holes in their ear lobes for putting in decorations; others tattooed their bodies - usually the forehead, the abdomen and the back. At a dance they tied little bells (tsindeke) round their ankles and legs.


Clothes worn by the youth:
Young girls only wore strings of beads round their waists and necks and pierced their ear lobes to put in little decorations. When they got older they tattooed themselves. This was done artistically on the forehead, back, chest and abdomen. There were many symmetrical shapes: circles or half- circles, zigzag lines, even figures of animals. Young boys either went naked, or used a wide strap of leather as eshikhonera. It was attached to a string round the waist and passed between the thighs to be fixed on the string again on the other side of the body.

Omukokho (barkcloth): This was an industry native to the Bantu tribes of Uganda. Those living close to Lake Victoria knew how to make it out of the bark and sap of a certain tree called omuduubu. But the barkcloth from Buganda and Busoga was much better made and those who wanted to buy the barkcloth preferred to buy the imported ones which were brought by Busoga traders across Berkeley Bay. As a result, local makers of barkcloth eventually stopped making it.

bukusu girl
One of the earliest photos of a Luhya girl's dress. Talk of G-Strings!

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