The historical background of textiles in kenya
Gohil, Manoharlal Mavji
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The Historical Background of Textiles in Kenya This study was undertaken in an attempt to trace the history behind the introduction of a commodity of Textiles in Kenya. The aim was to establish the significance and the validity of the past and to bring to the attention, wherever possible, many facts about, textile substitutes in form of traditional dresses of various ethnic groups of Kenya. The challenge was of probing the past so as to understand and assess the reaction, ,of the country as a whole, to an innovation like textiles which was presented to the indigenous people by the foreigners who visited the country in its early history. For the purpose of seeing a cross section of the distribution of textiles into the country a selection was made of seven ethnic groups in Kenya, representing the areas from the coast to the western and north eastern regions of the country. The study was divided .into nine chapters starting with an introduction which mainly deals with the early history of the coast in an attempt to stress various activities taking place as early as the 15th century while the interior of the country being left unexplored to as late as 1840. Since textiles were introduced at the coast, the Swahili people of the coast form the basis of the second chapter and it marks the starting point of the study. Detailed early history of the region is entered into with an aim of emphasising, who the earliest settlements the coast were, how they associated with local inhabitants and what the results of their interactions were. The social and cultural conditions that prevailed with the foreigners settling at the coast as well as the trade and commerce which flourished, became responsible for introduction of textiles which through a system of caravan trade found its way to the interior of the country. This activity marked a change in the history of the people of the interior who until early 1800, were interacting only at local levels. The chapters on the ethnic groups are based on, in order of their contacts) with the coastal people. Thus the study moves from the Kenya coast to the interior in stages with the Giriyama people, who were the immediate neighbours of the Swahili, forming chapter four The Akamba people who were heavily engaged in trade, as the middlemen, between the people of the interior and the coastal people form the basis for chapter five The Maasai constitute the sixth chapter and the Abaluyia and the Luo people constitute the seventh and, eighth chapters respectively. The north eastern section of the country is looked at under the Somali group which makes up for information in chapter nine. All the above chapters are looked at under headings such as: (i) History of the people where stress is laid on the origins of the people, migratory movements and circumstances under which they settled into specific areas; (ii) The people whereby traits' and peculiarities of the people are ,lit. looked at; (iii) Clothing whereby traditional form of dressing for men, women and children is investigated through comments made by various explorers and missionaries, with particular emphasis on their reaction to cloth which they encountered under different circumstances; (iv) Trade whereby the earlier form of trading is outlined and recent trade in items of textiles is looked into, with emphasis on the value attached to textiles to the points of them becoming a primitive form of currency in the barter trade. The last section in each chapt.er is made up of photographic plates of the traditional items of dressing of the ethnic groups. Chapter ten which is the final chapter in the study is entitled "The impetus of change". The chapter is made up of a summary of information from chapters two to nine and lays emphasis on how the commodity 'of textiles has been responsible for changing patterns of everyday economic activities in the traditional Kenyan societies and how it has helped to establish a significant interaction between different ethnic groups. The chapter goes through the early history of the British interest in Kenya and the colonial era in Kenya whereby the British attitude and policies towards textiles and textile industry are outlined. The import situation of the British colony is traced and shows a diversity in origins of various textile goods. The serious competition which arose as a result, gave way to the British demands for consumption of only British textile goods. The increasing demand, as seen from statistical figures created a need for locally produced raw materials which gave rise to the local cotton growing and the first phase of industrialization. The second phase of development of the textile industry is marked by the early days in independent Kenya whereby the Government measures, distribution, expansion and protection are emphasized. The whole of chapter nine, which is the concluding chapter, is devoted to emphasize .It, the speed at which the textile goods, which were a new innovation to the indigenous people, have taken off towards its industrialization, and local production and thus becoming a vital factor in the economy of Kenya.
Faculty of Architecture, Design and Development, University of Nairobi