Namikango Mission

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Dress Code: Don’t leave home without a chitenje

Jan 2, 2014

We often dress casually at our home, and it’s play clothes for the kids. I let them enjoy the Malawian dirt. Braylon enjoys being barefoot and Brooklyn crawls around usually with just a cloth nappy (I get tired of washing so, so many of her clothes that are dirty from crawling outside). I wear “trousers” around the house.

Almost 10 years ago I taught school for a mission team in Mbale, Uganda. One day I was talking to our Ugandan house-worker and I asked her if culture was changing in the way they dress, as she always wore dresses or skirts to work. I asked if she ever wore pants. She looked at me with a puzzled almost fearful look and said, “Sorry?” I said, “Do you ever wear pants?” She again hesitated and looked down and softly said, “Yes.” I then realized my mistake. “I’m sorry! I mean do you ever wear trousers?” She looked relieved and said confidently, “Yes.” When talking about “pants” in an African culture (including Malawi) it is referring to underpants. Oops!

It is true that most African cultures are becoming more “Western.” But deeper into the villages, rarely will a woman be found with trousers on, this is from childhood on. Also, rarely will you see a woman with only one layer as a dress or skirt from the waist down. They usually will have a matching dress or skirt with a completely different pattern of 2 meters of cotton wax-coated cloth wrapped around like a second skirt. This outer layer in Chichewa is called a chitenje. A chitenje is a multipurpose necessity for most African women. It is used for:

In Malawi, don’t leave home without one!

– Becca Hayes