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Vivid Heritage

My Magazine 2022/04
2 min
Gambians have always been firmly attached to their vivid heritage, and it is well-manifested in their colourful ensembles that are finessed to perfection and accessorized with hints of traditional elegance, giving them a prominent status in the cultural department.

Part of the gentlemen’s national dress is the »mbahana«, a chic headpiece that embodies the identity of the patriotic Gambian, worn as a symbol of pride and an individualised sense of style.

Sitting beautifully atop the head, the mbahana takes the form of a round-shaped headpiece, folded and sewn into two layers, and adorned with a colourful and unique selection of embroideries and patterns. It can also be plain.

These fabrics-made crowns carry a great deal of importance to local gentlemen; it’s not just a sophisticated piece that compliments the kaftan, it’s also a headpiece that brings the wearer’s personality to life, from an array of colours and designs to the overall styling, which can be flattened, pinched, or swollen.

Headwraps are traditional attire for women in many Sub-Saharan African cultures. Gambian women call theirs mousorr.

Where, when and how headwraps are styled may represent wealth, ethnicity, marital status, mourning or reverence. It is not just a fashion that has been preserved over time, but it is history and a connection to ancestors. Headwraps connect West African women with tradition and relatives, brothers and sisters across the Atlantic.

In the past, many enslaved women had to wear head coverings for protection from the sun, sweat, dust, and lice. They were also symbolic markers of the inferior class in the society of the time. But enslaved women also used headwraps folds to communicate with each other with coded messages that their masters could not understand.

From 1865 when slavery was abolished to the present, the costume of headscarves has undergone fashion, social and stylistic changes. It has now become a key accessory for African beauty, fashion, style, heritage, identity, and an attribute of femininity.

Wearing a headscarf is common among Gambian women, especially during ceremonies such as weddings and naming ceremonies when they wear traditional clothes. But it is not necessarily connected to outfit or opportunity, today everyone can wear the moussor. It became a trendy accessory after some famous black stars adopted it and integrated it into their style.

Moussor is like a crown that enhances a woman’s silhouette and makes her look and feel majestic.


Photo Credits: Milan Njenjić, M. Faal

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