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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Masai Tartans

So, who says tartans are just for Scots?

I've said it many times before, but even though tartans are most readily identified with Scottish Highland Dress, tartan cloth can actually be found pretty much anywhere they have the technology to weave cloth. Once you have the know how to weave basic solid cloth, the next logical step in creating decorative fabrics is to add stripes. If you use the same series of stripes in both the warp and weft of the fabric, you have a tartan pattern.

Tartan cloth has been found in archaeological digs in Austria, buried with 5000 year old mummies in China, and depicted in paintings of fourteenth century French coathardies and nineteenth century Japanese Kimonos!

So I wasn't surprised when my friend, and co-conspirator on the Compendium of District Tartans, Al Bullman, told me that the Masai warriors in Africa have a tradition of wearing tartans. From what he knew, the warriors, called Moran, are given tartans to wear upon coming of age. He got the information from a woman he met at a local Highland Games here. Neither he nor I can claim any knowledge of traditional African cultures, so I went on line to see what I could find.

What I found were loads of images of Moran warriors wearing different tartans, mostly as drapes or robes. Most of the tartans were predominantly red, and incorporated a bright blue color. I did see some tartans that were more blue than red, and one or two that were mostly white or yellow. Some warriors were also pictured in solid or striped cloth, but tartan was definitely dominant among them.

I'll post some of the images I found below. Again, I know nothing about the cultural significance of these patterns and garments. But if someone of African descent were to decide to wear the kilt, I think it would be an interesting project to recreate one of these traditional patterns for him to wear! Why not?

If anyone has any information on the history or significance of these patterns among the Masai people, please feel free to let me know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From the Caldeonian Mercury,Saturday January 5, 1782,
transcribed by Alex Good 29 NOV, 2005:

from Captain Archibald Campbell's Independent Company,
now recruiting in Glasgow,
JOSEPH PRASEALL, a black man, aged twenty years, five
feet five inches high, slender made, wore his hair
tied, had on when he went off a white coat and waistcoat,
and Nankeen breeches, and round hat. As he was formerly
a servant in Edinburgh, it is supposed he is now lurking
about that city. Whoever apprehends the said Deserter,
and lodges him in any of his Majesty's goals, shall
receive a handsome reward, over and above what is allowed
by act of Parliament for apprehending deserters, by
applying to the officer recruiting for said company at