ARTICLE: NII BONNEY ANDREWS


The smock is acknowledged as a bona fide national dress of Ghana (with the better known Kente cloth). Classically, it was indigenous to the northern belt and the Kente cloth to the southern region.  It is always worn over trousers.

Smocks are made of an aggregation of single strips of hand woven cloth- usually woven on a horizontal loom, and sewn together by hand or by machine. The cloth, often in a range of patterns, is sold in strips of 30-60cm in length.

The more complex the pattern, the shorter the standard unit. Successful tailors might buy an entire wheel of the more basic patterns.

Plain-weave white cloth strips (tempeliga) are the longest about 60 centimeters. A popular pattern called ?iyanaba? consists of narrow black stripes on a white ground.

It is worthwhile to remind ourselves that dressing the body separates Homo sapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom. Dress, along with written and spoken language, is a symbol system. The symbolism of dress is both simple and complex.

In short, it is crucial that knowledgeable or successful or serious people dress appropriately. There are guidelines for when to wear particular suits, shirts or ties. There are also guidelines as to when to wear particular kinds of smocks. Yes, there are different smocks for different occasions and they are often handcrafted.

First, there is the most widespread and ordinary type called the Danseka. It is also sometimes called ?Batakari? or ?Fuugu?. This is a sleeveless smock; it is usually bought in the market and remains very popular.

The Danseka can be worn by any male ? even a chief. In the urban/contemporary setting, it may be more appropriate to wear it over a short sleeved T-shirt. The Danseka should be strictly casual.

The second type of smock is the BANA?A; it has short sleeves (usually above the elbow) and is associated with relative success and well-being. In the urban/contemporary setting, it will be more appropriate for a ?smart casual? dress code as opposed to the Danseka.

The JAMPA is the third smock type. The sleeves extend to the wrist. This smock indicates high status and or minor chieftaincy. The three smock types thus far described may all have plain embroidery on the neckline.

The fourth and most important smock type is the Kparikoto; this has long full and very wide sleeves (easily 4 feet wide). It is normally worn only by paramount chiefs. For important events they wear several smocks simultaneously, but the Kparikoto is worn only as the outer garment (that is on top of all the others).

With the sleeves of the Kparikoto folded up- on top of the shoulder, the layers of other smocks show a band of colors that project the high social and political status of the wearer.

Therefore, the Kparikoto worn over the jampa or bana?a is the appropriate attire when the dress code states ?formal? or ?traditional? and a smock is chosen to be worn. A bana?a or jampa alone will not do and certainly not a Danseka alone!

A much more elaborate version of the Kparikoto is the huge smock/ gown ensemble (??elephant gown?) traditionally associated with the Sokoto Caliphate. This is distinctly different from the 3 or 4 piece ?Agbada?-often made of imported cloth.

These huge smock/gowns measure eight feet across, are of at least calf length and have elaborate embroidery around the neck, left chest and crossing over the shoulder to the upper back. They are commissioned by high net worth and politically powerful individuals.

Almost always made from hand woven cloth, they abound with symbols of prestige and power such as two or five knives, spirals and houses; all in hand done embroidery utilizing wild indigenous African silk ? sometimes in several layers. They are highly prized by collectors and connoisseurs; the best were made by Nupe craftsmen.

The Ghanaian smock has a rich history; it is now recognized on the international scene with powerful symbolic meaning for the Africans in the Diaspora.

A clear understanding of its several types and the appropriate occasion and manner for wearing different smocks will lead to the enhancement of the personality of the wearer (with pleasure to himself!), the sustenance of an indigenous industry and the correct preservation of an important heritage.

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