We have been in Maputo for just over a month now and I’m getting really excited about this little piece of fabric already. We don’t have a place to live yet but I can imagine all the things I could do with it just fine, in terms of clothes, cushions, bed covers, hangings for shade in the garden, mismatching napkins or upholstery.
A capulana, also spelled Kapulana, is a traditional piece of fabric that the majority of Mozambican women wrap around their waist to use as a long skirt just like that or casually thrown over leggings or jeans on an everyday basis.
The size of the material is about 2 metres by 1 metre but you can buy it longer if you wish.
The most common use of a capulana is the wrap-around skirt, but women here also choose the fabric for many more purposes: as a tailored dress or as a baby carrier on the back, as a turban on your head, a shawl, a bedsheet, curtains, a tablecloth, blanket, a bundle to carry heavy loads or a screen to protect you from the dust, as an improvised swimming costume or a funeral shroud… It is really considered a complete piece of clothing.
Capulanas have been in Mozambique since the establishment of the Arab/Indian trade routes more than five centuries ago. They were received from Indian traders as a means of trade for other goods. They come from India but paradoxically are truly African.
The shop I went to visit the other day is right in the city centre and is called Casa Elefante. It is currently run by its Indian owners. The Indian traders have been in Mozambique for a very long time and stayed no matter what, even through the difficult times of the war of independence against Portugal from 1964 to 1974 and then through the civil war which started right after the proclamation of independence in 1975 and lasted until 1992.
Shops that sell capulanas are everywhere in and around the city and you can also buy them in the streets from street vendors. The price varies from 100 meticais to around 300-400 meticais depending on the quality of the material and the patterns on it.
Today, there are many kinds of capulanas of various designs and colors. Some of the early traditional colors and styles of capulana are highly coveted and sell for high prices in shops and markets today. In Mozambique they have a high value and are considered particularly beautiful.
Brightly colored, capulanas are often offered as gifts to women (and I can only imagine the amount of them that I am going to buy for family and friends!). Some couples even make matching “Kapulana” outfits for special events or for a significant reason such as a traditional marriage between the two – a reason enough to finally tie the knot, I am not sure though…
Casa Elefante is opposite the Municipal Market in the ‘baixa’ (city centre).
For more information…
Uitnei Alda Chamusso is a Mozambican creative designer who is rediscovering the traditional fabrics of Mozambique. CNN made a documentary on her and her fashion company called Wumburi.
Sofia Vilarinho made a video as part of a project to investigate fashion in Mozambique from 1890 to 2011. Only pictures but interesting.