The African continent has been blessed and known for its strong cultural roots. Culture has become a way of living and a manner of expression for many on the continent. It connects people to certain social values, beliefs, religions and customs. It also allows people to identify with others that have similar mindsets and backgrounds. It can provide an automatic sense of unity and belonging within a group and allows people to better understand previous generations and the history of where they come from. With thousands of tribes on the continent, cultural clothing is one method used to distinguish the different cultures. Cloths of the African print, skins and other ornaments, specifically designed in a particular manner have added an identity to the culture. With its significance to the individual identity, culture has evolved over the years. As people live to see the sun of yet another day, the light comes with yet another method of how they approach their cultural identity.
In today’s modern world, people appear to embrace culture more than those who lived before them, but with a different approach and flair. Fashion all over the world has grown and Namibia too has embraced the growth. And for the sake of time, the evolution of culture is becoming evident by the day. People with different personalities approach cultural looks with a touch of modern fashion. The catalogues of history have images of long gowns that cover the entire body in some instances. Other tribes would rather prefer an identity that allows the free flow of air to be in contact with the chest. Those who mainly lived in settings with animals in abundance dressed themselves with animal skins perfectly tailored to fit the agent. The Namibian cultural fraternity celebrates magnitudes of cultural looks. With over 20 cultural families, cultural attires have uniquely added a diamond shine to celebrating each look. The Ovaherero women have adopted the German Victorian fashions of the nineteenth-century. They wear long petti-coated gowns with shawls accompanied by lavish headdresses. The Ovahimba, the least westernized tribe in Namibia, who typically wear leather thongs or skirts. They smear their bodies with ochre, a reddish pigment extracted from iron ore. Women wear elaborate braids and copper or leather bands around their necks making their figures appear very elongated. The Aawambo women are known for their ondelela that is shared within the different dialects.
The subject of how these attires not only were worn but also tailored back then has come to change today – a subject that has become evident on the streets and the fashion industry at large. Many of those who lived in the olden era do not agree with the modifications carried out by the younger generation who are keen to add flair and fashion to cultural attires. One of those who disagree with the modification of cultural attire is Jackson Kandjoze, who is more concerned that modern fashion will dilute culture. “I cannot stand to see the cultural attire changed and reconstructed like it is being done today. It is our roots, and our signature. If we continue with adjusting and fitting our cultural attire the way people feel like, 20 years down the line, there will be no original attire to show the next generations. How can this be allowed?” Kandjoze said as he expressed his disappointment.
He added that he fails to understand the rapid turn into the western cutting of the cultural cloth. Kandjoze maintained that the change does not benefit the authenticity of any culture and thereby cautioned elders to have a word with the current generation. On the other hand, the younger generation has begun celebrating culture with a different cut that suits their time and age. They tend to shy away from ancient traditional dressing style and opt for more bold attires and something that will make them stand out to show their hip and curves. “I am not born in the old times. I understand the meaning of culture but I also need to have some hip in my style,” said young Jennifer Shikongo. This is against the elderly version that things should be reversed to the olden days. According to designer Mc Bright Kavari, there is no way this can be reversed. “Believe me, the old way of wearing cultural attire is outdated. The reason for the change is due to diversity, because today’s generation are not interested in the ancient looks,” said the designer who has set his Otjiherero dress trademark on high tunes.
Known for his consistent delivery of unique designs of modern of cultural attires, Kavari believes that the upcoming youth would love and get the opportunity to wear the attire only when it has a modern touch. As per his observation, the Owambo, Nama and Herero attires have come off the shelves to make their space in the modern designs. “Mostly people will come to me with designs and my job is basically to bring everything together. Sometimes I do everything myself. Of the three, it is mostly the Ovaherero who open up to a more diverse angle in fashion with their attire.” Today, instead of wearing the actual cultural attire on relevant days or functions, the new and improved African print dresses, trousers and skirts have become a traditional everyday thing. There is a mix in almost everything and a collection of almost every culture that bends in a single attire. Many continue to question and worry about the quality of culture as the current cultural attire. Questions that remain a subject of debate remain to question the authenticity and the existence of the real culture. “You would see a few cultural activities are done differently today so this is a sign that we have moved on. The young man and woman who were not allowed to walk with a bottle of beer in the street back then now have freedom to do so today. Thus, there are more things that people should focus on today rather than looking at the creativity added to cultural attire.” “Nothing should remain static. Neither the dress or anything that has to do with you as an individual” he added. This is an ongoing topic and will evolve with the years. Question is to what extent are the parents or elders going to mark the importance of the old fashioned way so that the tradition does not get lost and to what extent will the youngsters and fashion gurus take this.