Of African consciousness, culture and trends


ON May 25, we celebrate Africa Day, in Africa, the birthplace of modern man.
Africa is home to some of the world’s greatest civilisations, from the Egyptian and Nubian societies in the North to the Madzimbahwe civilisations in south-central Africa.
The mother continent embraces many diverse ethnic peoples, cultures and languages and thus possesses a rich and varied culture, tradition, history and heritage.
The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the north, the Atlantic in the west, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula and the Gulf of Aden in the north-east with the Indian Ocean in the south-east.
The Sahara Desert divides the continent unequally into North Africa and Africa south of the Sahara.
The continent covers six percent of the earth’s total surface area of about
30 303 000 million km2 including adjacent islands of Madagascar, Mauritania and other archipelagos such as Cape Verde, Reunion and Sao Tome and Principe.
Africa straddles the Equator and encompasses numerous climatic areas; stretching from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones — the only continent to do so.
The continent was colonised in the 18th and 19th centuries and ruled by Europe, until after Second World War, when the growing forces of nationalism swept across Africa.
Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, many colonial possessions became independent states.
The first glows of a united African were observed on April 15 1958, when Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the then President of Ghana, convened the First Congress of Independent African states in Accra, which was attended by Ethiopia, Egypt, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia.
As a result of colonisation, Africans were stripped of their customs, culture, languages, names and their history; consequently many African people today continue to face the question of an identity crisis.
Africa has the richest and most diverse background than any other nation. The diversity of African concepts of indigenous origins and cultures have been appropriated and exported for centuries and have influenced and excited ideas, fashion and technologies, only to re-emerge within the new generations of African people.
The liberation movements in Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and the independence of many African states in the late 1950s and 1960s greatly influenced the political developments in Zimbabwe which culminated in our independence in 1980.
The gathering on May 25 1963, convened and hosted by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa, brought about the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to endorse and promote the decolonisation of Africa, mainly Angola, Mozambique, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa; the organisation pledged to support the work of the freedom fighters.
The realisation of which culminated in the 1970s, with material and moral support organised by the OAU for the liberation movements in Zimbabwe where the liberation struggle was at its height.
During this period, several other African countries gained formal independence; namely Guinea-Bissau (1974), Mozambique (1975) and Angola (1975) from Portugal; Djibouti from France in 1977; Zimbabwe from the UK in 1980; and Namibia from South Africa in 1990.
The decade of the 1970s also marked the consolidation of African awareness, solidarity and the emancipation of African identities.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Africa bestowed Europe with a fashion facelift – Africa was the ‘in thing’; refreshing, fashionable, novel, intriguing and exotic.
At a time when the voices of African freedom, African unity and African revolution were being sounded throughout the world, modern African art began to manifest all over Africa from Lagos to The Cape.
Culturally, black power and African pride manifested in the artefacts, music, literature and theatre of life; even the appearance and carriage of the people echoed: ‘I am black and I am proud’ as sung by James Brown!
Africa greatly influenced international socio-cultural outlooks and trends.
From the late 1960s and 1970s onwards, Africa was a huge source of inspiration for Pop and alternative cultures of oppressed peoples; colonial Africa and colonial India provided much of the fashion inspiration.
Fashion in the 1970s was about personal expression, individuality, freedom and identity.
The very aspirations Africa was fighting for and sought to achieve.
Fashion designers observed and successfully embraced and adapted their design aesthetics to accommodate the revolution taking place on the African continent.
The popular look for women in the occident, in the early 1970s, included African-inspired tie and dye maxi dresses and skirts as well as brightly coloured African accessories that included chokers, handcrafted neck ornaments and accessories made of natural organic materials such as pods, wood, shells and flowing scarves, that replaced the usual Western costume jewellery. 
Revolutionary military surplus clothing was also popular in the 1970s, echoing the freedom struggles in the colonies.
At the time of the creation of the OAU, Africa entered popular culture with an explosion; Osibisa, Manu Dibango, Isaac Hayes, Shaft, Blackexploitation movies, the Commodores, the Supremes as well as Earth, Wind and Fire sought inspiration in the wisdom and culture of the mother continent.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, anti-colonialist African insurgents and early 1970s Black Power groups like the Black Panthers enjoyed listening to rockabilly, soul, and rhythm ‘n’ blues music.
Typical clothing included black leather jackets, vests, black driving gloves, leather peaked caps, caps embellished with chains and metal studs, African folk costume like the fez and dashiki tops (maZambiya/chitenje/kitenge) in traditional African colours were the look of the day.
In the 20th Century ‘Afro’ entered into the English language.
From 1972-1976 Afro hair and dreadlocks became popular in the UK, US and Jamaica and among Motown, soul music and reggae fans of both sexes, as a rejection of the straightened hairstyles associated with white culture.
The Afro hairstyle indicated an African identity which became popular at the time. With the Afro came the Afro-comb – adopted from African antiquity and exported to the Caribbean, Europe and the US via the slave trade.
The Afro-comb, inspired by the shape of the hand, was revived to tend the Afro hairstyle of the time.
So influential were African trends and hairstyles that even white actors, musicians, models and celebrities sported African braids or Afro hairstyles.
The Afro chain became a fashion item. It was a large chained necklace with a central pendant, usually with a map of Africa or a used bullet to denote the revolutions that were sweeping through the continent bringing about independence in Africa.
Until the early 1980s, Western-style clothing was suppressed in China, due to the Cultural Revolution; thus grey Mao suits were the order of the day — worn by both sexes.
Green, blue or beige African safari jackets similar to the Mao suit became popular among liberal men, mainly in the UK, France, India and Australia, due to its association with socialist values and increased travel to exotic destinations, particularly Africa and India.
Africa inspired famous Hollywood actors like the late Roger Moore in his portrayal of James Bond 007 and Simon Templar – The Saint, to wear the popular African Safari suit in his secret service exploits.
Later-day examples of this period of African liberation trends in clothing are seen in Eddie Murphy’s African-inspired film ‘Coming to America’.
Africa Freedom Day was renamed Africa Liberation Day. In 2002, the OAU was replaced by the African Union (AU), and May 25 has continued to be commemorated as Africa Day in respect to the formation of the OAU.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and Corporate Image Consultant. He is also a specialist Art consultant, Post-Colonial scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com


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