It was in a little cupboard in the attic of Doll Cottage. A sun-coloured piece of cloth with some interesting writing near the bottom. The yellow and orange and golden flowers were so pretty, but what interested Jabali the most were the words, written in Kiswahili. Kila mlango…
It was a rainy day in Doll Village, and Jabali had been wandering around the house all afternoon, bored, peeping into cupboards. He hadn’t really expected to find anything, but now his eyes lit up, interested in his new find.
He could tell that this was only half of the cloth, because the words did not make a complete sentence. Besides, the cloth had obviously been cut in the middle with a zigzag pair of scissors that made an interesting pattern.
“Come and see what I found,” Jabali shouted to Jameela. “Here. Read what it says,” he said, pointing to the writing .
“Kila mlango,” Jameela read slowly. “What does that mean?”
“It’s Kiswahili. It means ‘every door’,”Jabali explained.
“I know that!” Jameela interrupted impatiently. But why does it say ‘every door’?”
“Well,” Jabali replied with a frown, “that’s the puzzle. It looks like someone cut the cloth in half, and I can’t find the other half. We need the other half to find out the end of the sentence.”
“I know. Let’s ask Doll Lady. She probably knows where the other half is,” Jameela said, running towards the kitchen, where Doll Lady was cooking up a pot of pumpkin soup that surprisingly matched the beautiful colours on the piece of cloth. Jabali followed at top speed and they nearly knocked Doll Lady over in their haste.
“Hey, slow down dolls,” she said, getting her balance back. “What’s all the excitement about?” She saw the piece of cloth in Jameela’s hand and nodded.
“That’s a kanga,” she explained. It’s rectangular cloth with a Swahili proverb or saying printed at the bottom. But this is only half of it. My grandmother got the whole kanga from her mother. She wanted both of her grandchildren to have part of it, so she gave half of it to me and the other half to my sister. That was a long time ago. I had forgotten about it.”
“Well, if you want to know what the other half says, we’ll have to call my sister and ask her,” Doll Lady said with a twinkle in her eyes.
Jabali and Jameela could hardly keep still as Doll Lady made the video call. They could hardly wait for Doll Lady to finish with the greetings and small talk and finally ask about the other half of the khanga. They were so excited when Doll Lady’s sister said she still had the other half.
“What does it say? What does it say?” they squealed, jumping up and down?
“I’ll show you,” she said, as she got the half kanga out of a drawer and held it up for them to read.
“na ufunguwo wake,” they read together.
“has it’s own key”
“Every door has it’s own key!”
What a perfect proverb for this mystery that each half kanga had just unlocked!
Did you know…
Traditionally, kangas were used as wraps by women and girls, or to carry babies on their backs. Nowadays they are also used to make clothes and household items like lampshades and cushions with an African flavour.
Imagine you’ve just been given a colourful kanga that belonged to your great grandma. You can make anything you like out of it. What would you make that would stand out and make great grandma proud of your creativity?
Look up the history of the kanga. It’s really interesting how the kanga came to be. 😊