- Boubou (clothing)
The Boubou/Bubu is one of the names for a flowing wide sleeved robe worn in most of West Africa and to a lesser extent in
North Africa, related to the Dashikisuit. It is known by various names, depending on the ethnic group wearing them: Agbada (Yoruba, Dagomba), Babban Riga (Hausa), K'sa ( Tuareg) Grand Boubou (in various Francophonic West African countries) and the English term of Gown.
Its origin lies with the clothing worn by the
Islamized peoples of the historic 8th Century Ghana Empireand 13th Century Mali Empirewho had in turn adopted the clothing of the nobility of the early Islamic Empirevia the Tuareg people. (see Bisht and Kaftanfor information on these). Comparing the Boubou to the various styles of Arabic Thawbsuggests the Boubou follows a more archaic template to the contemporary male clothing of the Middle East and North Africa.
The Boubou's use was historically limited to the Islamized peoples of West Africa who had inhabited the
Saheland Saharabut through increased trade and the spread of Islam, had historically spread to the nobility of most of the Islamized peoples in the forested regions of West Africa, and was historically worn by Chiefs of the Yoruba of Southwest Nigeria, the Mandinkaof the Gambia and the Susuof Guinea. Even today, the Boubou is mostly worn by Muslims , although it is gaining popularity as a fashionable form of attire by Christians in Southern Nigeriaand Ghana, and to a lesser extent, the Swahili peopleof East Africaand various Bantu speaking groups in Central Africa.
The Boubou as a full formal attire consists of 3 pieces of clothing: a pair of tie-up trousers that narrow towards the ankles (known as a "Sokoto" in Yoruba) and a long-sleeved shirt (known as a "Dashiki" in Yoruba) and a wide, open-stitched sleeveless gown worn over these. They are generally of the same colour, and historically were made from silk, but increased understanding of Islamic restrictions on clothing meant the Boubou is now mostly made from cotton and synthetic cloths made to resemble silk.
There is a set etiquette to wearing the Boubou, primarily in place to keep the over-gown above the ankles at any one time, in keeping with Islamic traditions of avoiding impurity (see
Najis). This can include folding the open sleeves of the Boubou over one's shoulders, normally done while walking or before sitting down (as the man in the yellow Boubou in the picture to the right is displaying) to ensure the over-gown doesn't rub against the ground, or by folding/wrapping each side over the other with the hand, narrowing the gowns space toward the ankles (as done by the Tuareg nomads of the Sahara). Thus, it is rare to see the Boubou's square shaped gown completely unwrapped.
The Boubou is usually decorated with intricate embroidery, and is worn on special religious or ceremonial occasions, for example the two Islamic
Eidfestivals, weddings, funerals or for attending the Mosquefor Friday prayer. It has become the formal attire of many countries in West Africa. Older robes have become family heirlooms passed on from father to son and are worn as status symbols.
Aso Oke Hat
* [http://www.dupsies.com/Dstore/agbada-c-27.html Agbada (Grand Boubou) pictures]
* [Video of Malian griot Mah Kouyate, with extensive film of local Chiefs wearing the Grand Boubou during Eid http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBa_ihXXI]
*This film, [http://www.allafricanmovies.com/movie_details.php?mid=1116] , and its sequel "Miss Nigeria 2" [http://www.allafricanmovies.com/movie_details.php?mid=1117] , contain several properly worn boubous. The sleeves are folded while walking.
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