THE KANGA is a rectangle of pure cotton cloth with a border all around it, printed in bold designs and bright colours. The fabric usually carries a proverb or saying.
The kanga originated on the east coast of Africa in the mid 19th Century. The story goes that some stylish women from Zanzibar or Mombasa (this is disputed) came up with the idea to sewing together rolls of handkerchiefs or “leso” (a name still used today) which were brought to East Africa by Portuguese traders. The first kangas would have been without any writing, it is thought that the proverbs and saying were added around 1910.
Many of the sayings have the added charm of being obscure or ambiguous in their meaning. If you find a proverb that you can't figure out, ask several different Swahili speakers. You will get an equal number of different explanations!
There is a common Swahili proverb that says "a woman can't be happy until she has a thousand kangas."