East Africa is home to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia. Some definitions also include Tanzania. The Horn of Africa, as Somalia is sometimes known as, is my country of birth. There is a rich culture of tradition, religion and long-standing beliefs. The media may portray the people of my country as pirates, criminals and enforce negative stereotypes however there is much more to know than what is widely reported (as is often the case with the media). I am straying from the topic here and I will return to this as a future blog topic.
It’s that time of year again. Summer weddings are rife within the Somali community and this year, the popular wedding season coincides with the holy month of Ramadan where there is an endless stream of Muslim couples aiming to get hitched just before the fasting begins so that their marriages are blessed from the very start. Yet again, this is another blog topic that will be re-visited. Here, I want to focus on the fashions that are worn to Somali weddings as they are becoming increasingly elaborate and individualistic.
Our traditional celebratory dress for women is called a Dirac. In terms of length, it’s very long and usually skimming the floor however we wear a petticoat of sorts in which the Dirac is tucked into (so that we don’t trip over the long hemlines). The Dirac is usually transparent which is why there is a need for an undergarment to be worn and despite the conservative image we like to portray – there is a certain sexiness to our traditional dress. The sheer material hints at a coy suggestiveness of what’s just beyond vision but this is counter-balanced by the almost shapelessness of the Dirac as the folds of material are extremely loose.
We also have another traditional dress called a ‘Guntiino’ which is a long piece of fabric that is wrapped around the body numerous times and then tied from one shoulder, leaving the other bare. This type of dress originates from the southern regions of Somalia and favoured there, although I personally prefer it to the Dirac as it hugs the figure and helps silhouette the female frame. The traditional method of leaving one shoulder bare appeals to my personal taste.
Both types of garments are being customised as of late by the younger Somali generation in an attempt to update the traditional look. It used to be that the Dirac and Guntiino were a uniform for wedding goers and that the only variations in terms of appearance was not the style in which they were worn but the colours. The Guntiino is being re-worked as young women are now tying both shoulders and draping the back with loose folds of material.
Young Somali girls are accessorising the dresses with belts around their middles to cinch in the waist and create the hourglass figure that is desired by men and women alike. Women aspire to this body shape and men are inspired by it. Also, with the infinite patterns, colours and prints there are to choose from not to mention the continuously evolving styles; no girl will experience the fashion faux pas of another female in the same outfit.
I have now decided to embrace my traditional clothes and start my very own collection of Guntiino’s and Dirac’s instead of raiding my mother’s closet or borrowing these wonderfully expressive garments from friends. Here is my very first, personally purchased Guntiino for the entire world to see!