The Dashiki traces its root to the Yoruba tribe in Western Nigeria (Gaither, 2017). Also, the Hausas in Northern Nigeria term the fabric “Dan Ciki”, meaning "underneath", and was a small tunic worn by men under longer robes. The original fabric used to create the Yoruba Dan Ciki, a work outfit, was hand-woven strip cloth.
It has four gussets placed to create a flare at the hem and deep-cut armholes with pockets below. Identical tunics were found in Dogon burial caves in Mali, which date to the 12th and 13th centuries (Wolf, 346; Boggio, 2022). The term Dan Ciki has evolved to become Dashiki.
Dashiki has become unisex wear. Traditionally it has a V-neck with embroidery around the neckline. The ones worn for casual purposes have no embroidery around the neckline and can have rounded necklines aside from the traditional V-neck. The garment has maintained its loose-fitted nature with pockets. It can either have sleeves or be sleeveless.
They are made from lightweight fabrics, mostly silk brocade, suitable for West Africa's climate (Okoh, 2018). The common ones are the colourful ones made from the "Angelina" print. The print was designed by Toon van de Manakker, a textile designer for Viisco. He was inspired by the embroidery designs in the tunics worn by Christian noblewomen in Ethiopia in the 18th and 19th centuries. (Gaither, 2017 and Mitchual, 2020).
Influence From The Diaspora
Dashiki's influence increased during the Civil Rights and Black Panther Movements of the 1960s and 1970s (Today, 2021). It was first produced in large quantities as a unisex garment by Jason Benning, Milton Clarke, Howard Davis, and William Smith under New Breed Clothing Ltd, a company based in Harlem, New York (Okoh, 2018). Around that time, individuals of African American heritage began donning Dashikis to support African culture and combat westernisation.
Later, this style became a source of pride for Black people and a tribute to West African culture. An African American wearing a Dashiki now conveys a powerful statement that they are an African descendant. It has influenced black people's politics and thought over time (Today, 2021). In 1970 a Dashiki dress was designed and worn by Fath Davis Ruffins, curator of the National Museum of American History. Also, Jazz musician, Eddie Harris, wore a printed Dashiki while playing the saxophone at a performance in Hollywood, Florida, in 1983 (Boggio, 2022).
The Dashiki also pays tribute to African ancestors who were unable to embrace their African heritage for more than a century. Even though the history and culture of the Dashiki have always been formidable, the white population's embrace of it posed a danger. When Dashiki's political influence peaked in the 1960s, counterculture forms embraced it and almost diluted it. The feeling of Black identity was all but lost, but it persisted because it was genuine. The garment had little cultural significance when the whites adopted it; instead, it was just an aesthetic choice.
To prevent the Dashiki's true meaning from fading in the face of polarisation, black intellects played a significant role. They discussed how it related to their communities in the diaspora and cautioned against downplaying its importance (Today, 2021).
Modern celebrities like Amandla Stenberg, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Drake, French Montana, Jhené Aiko, Rihanna, Wale, Stevie Wonder and Zendaya also joined the wagon to identify themselves as of African descent by wearing Dashiki (Okoh, 2018).
The colours of Dashiki have meanings. Grey is the traditional colour for grooms and groomsmen in West Africa. Red and black are the standard colours for mourning (Mitchual, 2020). Gold signifies fertility and wealth; blue is a symbol of the sky which means harmonious living; green means life and prosperity; white is purity and spirituality and red is the colour of blood (Obiero, 2019).
Dashikis can be formally worn in three ways; the Dashiki, a Sokoto (drawstring trousers) and a Kufi; this is called the Dashiki suit and is worn by grooms for wedding ceremonies. Then there is a robe (Senegalese kaftan) consisting of an ankle-length shirt with a matching Kufi and Sokoto. Lastly, the Grand boubou consists of the Dashiki with matching trousers and a flowing gown worn over it. This is worn by tribal chiefs, Nigerians, or Muslims (Fashion Gone Rogue, 2021). The casual Dashiki is usually made of prints. Both men and women can also wear them for any informal occasion. The loose-fitting style is great for hot weather.
Its Role In The Present World
Today the Dashiki has become an African wear majorly for the Africans in the diaspora (Mitchual, 2020). The name Dashiki does not only refer to the garment but also the print style (Gaither, 2017). Both men and women can be seen wearing various styles of Dashiki print throughout the world to express their pride in their African ancestry.
People often wear Dashiki during Black History Month and Kwanzaa celebrations. Dashiki has become a part of pop culture among millennials (Okoh, 2018).
By Louisa Pokua Owusu-Afriyie, Africa's Young Fashion Leaders Fellow (Project Management) at the Council for International African Fashion Education
Africans in Diaspora
Boggio, A. (2022). Dashiki | Fashion History Timeline. [online] fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu. Available at: https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/dashiki/.
Fashion Gone Rogue. (2021). Dashiki: an African Fashion through History. [online] Available at: https://www.fashiongonerogue.com/dashiki-african-fashion-through-history/.
Gaither, T. (2017). What Is a Dashiki: Dashiki History Lesson. [online] D’IYANU. Available at: https://www.diyanu.com/blogs/fashion/dashiki-history-lesson.
Mitchual, G. (2020). The Amazing History and Evolution of the Dashiki. [online] Available at: https://www.unorthodoxreviews.com/dashiki-history-evolution/.
Obiero, G.M. (2019). Dashiki origin, history, and Cultural Significance. [online] Tuko.co.ke - Kenya news. Available at: https://www.tuko.co.ke/308044-dashiki-origin-history-cultural-significance.html.
Okoh, L. (2018). How the Dashiki from West Africa Became Cool Again. [online] Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/africa/articles/how-the-dashiki-from-west-africa-became-cool-again/
Today, S.A. (2021). The Dashiki and Its Political Potency in Safeguarding African Culture. [online] See Africa Today. Available at: https://seeafricatoday.com/culture/the-history-of-dashiki-and-its-relevance-to-black-culture/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2022].
Image Credits: Canva Photos