What exactly is a capulana? You’ve probably seen them before. A capulana is a type of printed sarong, worn as a skirt or dress, headdress, shawl, towel, and even to carry a baby on your back (Ericsson, 2013). Capulanas are primarily worn in Mozambique, but also worn in other African countries and called different names depending on the country. Mozambican capulanas were once manufactured in India and brought to Mozambique by Southeast Asian traders. After Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, and also during war times, there was a shortage of capulanas (Vermelha, 2004). Today, there are specialty stores just for the selling of capulanas owned by Mozambican people, with imported cloths from India. Along with capulanas multi-purposes, Mozambican tailors and designers use second-hand clothing in combination with traditional capulanas to create new looks (Ericsson, 2013).
The number of capulanas owned by Mozambican women are considered symbols of high status; the more, the better. In some areas of Mozambique, the more capulanas that a woman wears at one time is a symbol of wealth. It is said that Mozambican women feel most womanly when wearing a capulana. Urban and rural Mozambican women wear this respected garment. In different regions of the country, women wear their capulanas in different ways; northern Mozambican women wear a second capulana as head wrap, while southern Mozambican women wear matching capulanas as headscarves and wrap-around dresses.
Like clothing in general, capulanas can be used to communicate messages. Capulanas’ printed patterns may include political slogans, pictures of public figures, proverbs, or local events. Capulanas are used for practical purposes such as carrying merchandise or used as curtains, as well as being used during religious ceremonies or political events.
A Mozambican woman’s capulana can tell the story of her village and country. For example, the Tufo dance is a religious performance in Mozambique in which traditional capulanas are worn for the performance at weddings (Vermelha, 2004). Each performance has its own capulana, as well as each group of Tufo dancers have their own colored-coordinated capulana (Vermelha, 2004). The colorful and eye-catching capulanas have a long history and a deep significance to Mozambican people.
Ericcson, A. (2013). The life of a dress: Mozambique. The Swedish School of Textiles, University of Boras: Boras, Sweden.
Vermelha, E. (2004). Tufo dancing: Muslim women’s culture in northern Mozambique. Lusotopie, pp. 39-65.
Speaking with Cloth: Capulanas of Mozambique. University of Denver: DU Department of Anthropology.
Lodge, K. (2016). Wrapped in a capulana. Retrieved from: https://africageographic.com/blog/wrapped-in-a-capulana/