AFRICAN FASHION FRIDAY: Agbada

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Agbada is one of the names for a flowing wide-sleeved robe worn by men in much of West Africa, and to a lesser extent in North Africa, related to the dashiki suit.

The garments is known by various names in different ethnic groups and languages that adopted it from the original babban riga of the Hausa People, variously called agbada in Yoruba and Dagomba, boubou from Wolof mbubb, mbubb in Wolof, k’sa or gandora in Tuareg, darra’a in Maghrebi Arabic, grand boubou in various French-speaking West African countries and the English term gown.

The Senegalese boubou, a variation on the grand boubou described below, is also known as the Senegalese kaftan. The female version worn in some communities is also known as a m’boubou or kaftan or wrapper

ORIGIN OF AGADA

Its origin lies with the clothing style of the Hausa nobility and subsequently neighbouring Songhai peoples of the 12th and 13th-century Mali and Songhai Empires. The use of the babban riga as clothing became widespread throughout the West African region with the migration of Hausa long distance traders and Islamic preachers in and around Muslim regions of west Africa in the 1500s and even more rapidly after the Fulani Jihad of the 19th century.

Use
Agbada is usually decorated with intricate embroidery, and is worn on special religious or ceremonial occasions, such as the two Islamic Eid festivals, weddings, funerals or for attending the Mosque for Friday prayer. It has become the formal attire of many countries in West Africa. Older robes have become family heirlooms passed on from father to son and are worn as status symbols.

There are female versions of the agbada style in Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and many other West African countries. An alternative female formal version of the boubou is also called the wrapper.

Clothing
Agbada as a full formal attire consists of three pieces of clothing: a pair of tie-up trousers that narrow towards the ankles (known as a sokoto pronounced “shokoto” in Yoruba), a long-sleeved shirt and a wide, open-stitched sleeveless gown worn over these. The three pieces are generally of the same colour, and historically were imported from Sokoto in Hausaland into Yoruba Muslim areas of Oyo. It is made from cotton and richly embroidered in traditional patters. However modern Yoruba make the Agbada from synthetic cloths that resemble silk in stark contrast to its cotton origins


Popularity
Use of agbada was historically limited to various Islamised Sahelian and Saharan peoples of West Africa, but through increased trade and the spread of Islam throughout the region, it gained use among peoples in the savanna and forested regions of West Africa. Through this, the agbada was historically worn by chiefs of the Yoruba of Nigeria, Dagomba of Ghana, the Mandinka of the Gambia, the Susu of Guinea and the Temnes of Sierra Leone.

Today, Agbada has gained popularity as a fashionable form of attire among wide classes of people in West Africa, the African diaspora, and very recently, even among Bantu people in East, Southern and Central Africa.

Gender differences
Although usually a form of men’s clothing, women’s traditional clothing in much of Sahelian West Africa is of similar construction, though usually worn differently. In some places these are called the m’boubou. In other regions of West Africa, the female formal clothing has been a boubou variant, called a kaftan, and in other places it is the wrapper and headscarf.

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