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Lecture | Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS)

Kanga: the ‘talking cloth of the Indian Ocean’

Tuesday 27 November 2018
Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS) year 2018 - 2019
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden
Room SB-45 (basement)

Material objects like the Kanga, a unique genre of cloth, have stories to tell. The fabric is a historical repository of the migration of Indian traders, who sailed across the western Indian Ocean to the Swahili coast, trading cloth, but also transporting visual aesthetics. Kanga designs feature Paisley/Khorosho motifs, the familiar square and dot patterns that adorn Indian Bandhani, but they also reveal artistic influences from Europe, the Middle East and the inland cultures of the Swahili coast. Over the centuries, this cosmopolitan cloth has mixed the boundaries between the peoples of the continents of Asia and Africa.

This seminar presents a short film, ‘Common threads: fabrics from India for Africa’, which documents the journey of the Kanga from the factories in the cottonopolis of Jetpur, Gujarat, to the marketscapes of East and southern Africa, showcasing the master artisans whose skilful workmanship produces these brilliantly coloured fabrics. The presentation draws upon the ethno-fictional narrative Home Between Crossings, by the Kenyan novelist, Sultan Somjee, as well as fieldwork among the women of Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar who are the keepers of the Kanga - of its stories of wisdom, of protests, of migration, histories and memories.


Dr. Renu Modi


Dr Renu Modi is an Associate Professor and former Director, Centre for African Studies, University of Mumbai, India. She received her PhD from the Centre for African Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi and graduated from the Lady Shree Ram College for Women, New Delhi. Her research is interdisciplinary and cuts across, International Relations, Global Studies and Indian Ocean Studies. She has received several prestigious research awards, including visiting scholarships to the University of Oxford, DAAD (Germany), Nordiska Africa Institute (Sweden) and the Shastri Indo- Canadian Institute award. She also served as a social development consultant for the World Bank. Her documentary, Connecting Threads: Made in India Fabrics for Africa was premiered at the Zanzibar International Film Festival in July 2018. Take a look at her publications.


CHIRRS (Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar) brings together historians, area specialists and international relations specialists to address 20th century topics from Brexit to the Muslim world and from French decolonization to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

If you would like to attend the seminars or to be added to our mailinglist, please send an e-mail to chirrs@hum.leidenuniv.nl.

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