chapter  5
The kofia tradition of Zanzibar: the implicit and explicit discourses of men’s head-dress in an Indian Ocean society
Pages 19

In contemporary Zanzibar1 the term kofia is used to refer to a particular type of embroidered cap worn by men of all ages, from different backgrounds, and different occupations.2 It is worn with trousers and shirts or with a kanzu, a long loose robe, usually made from white cotton fabric. The kofia is part of a man’s everyday dress. But it is also worn on occasions such as state functions, public gatherings, weddings, funerals and other religious ceremonies.3 The image of a man wearing a kofia is long-standing in Zanzibar. Photographs dating from the end of the nineteenth century up to the present day show men in Zanzibar wearing kofias. In contemporary times, the image of a man wearing a kofia is depicted in tourist magazines and picture books by visiting journalists and photographers. Such works often depict a man wearing a kofia as part of a tableau vivant that also includes veiled women, crumbling mosque arches, carved doors, white sandy beaches, and dhows. These tableaux fuse together the past with the present, and betray, perhaps, a type of orientalism. However, such images are also produced by locals. For example, a print advertisement campaign for a local cellular telephone company shows a man wearing a kofia and kanzu standing at a dhow port speaking into a mobile phone. Another example is a locally produced T-shirt for tourists that shows the cartoon character Tin Tin wearing a kofia having arrived in Zanzibar with his dog Snowy for an adventure (Fig. 5.1). These portraits indicate a degree of reflexivity that requires careful examination.