google-site-verification: googlecb803562c78427f3.html The Loincloth: Cultural Uses and Symbols | Kingdom of Africa



Posted by Florian Cheval on


The loincloth is a fabric measuring approximately 150 cm by 250 cm. In its primary use, it is wrapped around the hips and rolled over itself at the waist to form a skirt. Worn throughout West and Central Africa, it belongs to that large category of clothing that is not sewn but wrapped around the body. Present throughout the world, this class includes the sarong , the kain, the 👉 kanga , the sari, the shuka and the toga .

Although they are traditionally made of strips or wide hand-woven fabrics, loincloths (also called wrapper in English-speaking Africa ) can also be made from hand-dyed or factory-printed cotton, as well as silk and rayon.


The loincloth among the Kalabari

In the 17th and 18th centuries, men wore loincloth clothing , but in the 20th century they became, with a few exceptions, exclusively feminine. Certain ethnic groups, including Kalabari , Nigeria, are an exception to this rule. Among them, men's ceremonial attire includes an ankle band worn with a long or short shirt, depending on rank. The outfit is topped with a bowler hat.

Traditional men's shirt

Although these long clothes hide most of the loincloth, it is also worn with short clothes: a loose boubou with puffed sleeves called the marinière, or a fitted top with a ruffle at the hip and puffed sleeves called the low waist . The graceful style in these countries is that of two wrappers or two loincloths. With a sailor top and a loincloth worn like a long skirt, the second loincloth, matching, is wrapped around the hips and tied.

As with women, the loincloth generally reaches the ankle, but it is worn with different upper garments in French- and English-speaking West African countries. In Senegal and neighboring French-speaking countries Mali, Guinea and Benin, the loincloth is worn with elegant long clothing, such as grand boubou or a long loose dress called ndoket. A turban completes the outfit.

African boubou for women 2 pieces


In the early 20th century, when Senegalese women wore their boubous at the hip or knee, the loincloth was a more important visual element for both the aesthetics and symbolism of the dress. The loincloth was a major form of wealth, as well as a means of artistic expression. In order to show their status and taste, Senegalese women wore three loincloths, layered in three different lengths. The three contrasting loincloths were made of hand-woven, hand-dyed and factory-printed fabrics.

After the Second World War, the large boubou , which reaches almost to the ankles, has become fashionable for women. The loincloth, almost hidden, has become a less important point of focus. In the latter part of the 20th century, elegant fashion required a single loincloth of the same fabric as the boubou and turban, either richly dyed or in 👉 Dutch wax .


In Nigeria, where the top of clothing is generally short and weaving and dyeing are complex arts, the wrapper, as it is called, has retained its strong visual focus throughout the outfit. Luxurious, hand-woven, either on strip looms or wide looms, dyed with resist patterns, or in solid colors of rich silk, loincloths, called Iro , can be used in many styles.

the styles of iro nigeria

For special occasions, they can be worn with a cropped overblouse in rich fabric, often lace. In many ethnic groups, women dress for ceremonial occasions in a style called " top and bottom ." For this outfit, two matching fabrics are wrapped around the body, one at the waist, the other under the arms. They can also be wrapped to the waist, knee length and ankle length.

Additionally, urban women in Nigeria can adopt a style in which a hand-woven wrap is gathered around the middle of the body on a western dress. The outfit is topped with a scarf assorted.

Green women's scarf

This style of fabric differs from both loincloths in a way that embodies differences in culture, nationality, and age. Overburdening is a form of elegance worn by older married Nigerian women to demonstrate their wealth and social position. It is tied loosely around the waist to show off the heavy, expensive fabric, woven in stripes. The two loincloths, by contrast, are made of factory-dyed or printed cotton, which is light, more flexible and clings to the body. This style is worn in West and Central Africa by young women, whose body contours, graceful carriage and undulating gait are manifested to good effect in the second, tightly wrapped loincloth.


In Senegal, a second loincloth, at the knee, called in Wolof bethio , is worn like a petticoat and is only seen in intimate encounters with a lover or husband. A home of erotic fantasy and innuendo, bethio plays an important role in the art of seduction, for which Senegalese women are famous. It is also the fruit of feminine craftsmanship. Generally solid in color, and often white, the bethio is made of various hand-worked fabrics.

One of these fabrics is a mill silk, or more often polyester, with hand-cut eyelet designs and silver or gold embroidery. Another production is made of percale, hand embroidered with thick thread in bright colors. For a third production, the women crochet the bethio in fine thread. But above all, the loincloth, as an infinitely versatile piece of fabric, is symbolically fundamental to human culture itself.

In Wolof, the main African language of Senegal, the word pagne is Séru , which simply means "cloth". When a child is born, he is immediately wrapped in a loincloth, and when he is a baby, he is carried on his mother's back in a loincloth wrapped around his upper body. In Senegal, when a woman gets married, her friends cover her head in a loincloth before taking her on a trip to her husband. When a person dies, they must be wrapped in a white percale loincloth.

A symbol of wealth, sexuality, birth, death and marriage, the loincloth is a rich focus of visual aesthetics and multiple meanings.

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