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Rwandese Attire: Mushanana & Amasunzu

Hey guys! I’m Oluwalanu and welcome back to my blog!


Today, we’re talking about traditional Rwandese clothing! So something just occurred to me, I‘ve never told you guys how scattered I can be lol. Okay, I’m not scattered but I’m just always so tired. When planning for a trip, there is so much that goes into planning from the pre-research, ongoing research, planning out what content I want to capture, and finding people to help and the places to visit. So sometimes I just get tired, throw my hands in the air, and hope for the best. Thankfully, it has never not worked out in the end.


MORE ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE


So needless to say on this day in Kigali, I had no plan on how I was going to explore traditional Rwandese clothing. Out of all the aspects of culture I feature for each ethnic group, clothing is always the hardest. The reason is on a daily basis, most people around the world wear western style clothing or in this part of the world, ankara, which is still not any African ethnic group’s traditional clothing. So, my best chance of seeing the clothing is luckily seeing it on someone who’s going to a wedding. But even then I can’t go up to a stranger and say, “can I take a picture of you for my blog?”. The second option is going to a clothing store, which is what I did but that still has its own challenges.


So I hopped in the car and told my taxi driver to please take me where I could possibly try on the mushanana. I had the same taxi driver for two days so we got quite acquainted. After about 10 to 15 minutes, we arrived at a really busy street. He said it was best to park about 5 minutes from the building and walk because we wouldn’t find parking. I was happy to walk because it gave me a chance to see Rwandese people in their element and get some nice street shots.



When we arrived, I quickly realized it was a mall we were entering. I just thought, hmmm and I’ll tell you why later. We got to the store where they sold the fabric for the mushanana but I didn’t see any ready-to-wear versions. I even thought maybe they could just tie it on me but these women seemed serious and ready to sell. They would just beat me if I say, “Oh, please can I just try it on and take pictures and videos?” lol. That was why I thought hmmm when we were entering the mall. Anyway, they showed me the fabric and told me 5 yards cost 100,000 Francs (roughly $100). My mouth opened but just in my head. However, thinking about it, the fabric was for brides so it made sense that it was so expensive. Before leaving the store, I snuck a few pictures and videos.


In my mind, I had kind of given up. I thought I could do more research like I should have done in the first place and then try again tomorrow. Then my taxi driver said, “let’s go to another shop” so I followed him. The shop clerk at the second shop was younger and friendlier. The taxi driver explained to her that I just wanted to dress like a Rwandese bride and take a few pictures and videos and I would of course pay a small fee for her help. She agreed to help. YAAAAAY!!


ABOUT THE MUSHANANA & OTHER TRADITIONAL ATTIRE

So let’s get into it. The mushanana is the traditional Rwandese clothing for women. The style is what is called mushanana but it can be made in different fabrics. Now how is the mushanana worn? Traditionally, Rwandese women tie a long wrapper around their waists. On their upper bodies, they wear a vest or bustier and then tie a wrapper matching the skirt over one shoulder. The other side of the wrapper on top falls on the opposite arm and is always held up majestically. Rwandese women also wear jewelry that matches their chosen colour of mushanana. Here you will see pictures of the shop clerk dressing me. I was really excited and thought I looked fabulous in my mushanana.



There are other amazing aspects of Rwandese clothing that I should mention. One is the clothing for men. Rwandese men wear umushanana, a long floor-length wrapper. They wear it with a long sleeve white shirt tucked into the wrapper and the same cloth tied over one shoulder like the women. To accessorize their look, Rwandese men wear beads around their necks and sometimes, hold a cane. When I saw the Rwandese men’s traditional look, I quickly realized it bared some similarities to Urhobo attire for men in Nigeria.




All over the African continent, one way that ethnic groups distinguish themselves is with their hairstyle. The amasunzu hairstyle in Rwanda is one that is particularly interesting to me because of its crescent shape and the parts that are shaved. In ancient times, all men wore this hairstyle. Women also wore the hairstyle but only after the age of 18 until they were. For women, the hairstyle signified that they were of marriageable age and still unmarried. In 2018, Lupita N’yong dawned a modern version of this hairstyle on the Academy Awards red carpet in celebration of ancient Rwandese culture.

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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a writer and illustrator from Lagos, Nigeria.

 

In 2015, I started a company called IheartLagos with the aim of showcasing Lagos culture in a unique and fun way.

 

That journey took me down an exciting path, discovering and learning so much about Nigeria.

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