The Ghanaian Smock – History, Heritage and Pride

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A Ghanaian smock is a plaid tunic-like shirt that is similar to the dashiki, worn by men in Ghana. There are also female versions of it. The smock is also called Bun-nwↃ or Bana by Mamprusis, fugu or a batakari in the northern region,dansika in Frafra, futik in Kusaal both in the upper east region. It is worn by kings in the three northern regions but is now popular across Ghana. The smock originated in the northern region of Ghana.

The smock is made of hand-loomed strips popularly called Strip Cloths. They are made of a mixture of dyed and undyed cotton loom, and are originally from the northern part of Ghana and other parts of West Africa. The strips are sewn together by hand or machine giving the smock a plaid appearance. Most smocks have embroidery on the neckline. The smock is worn with a kufi cap. However, chiefs in Ghana wear the smock with a red fez hat.

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The fugu is often confused with the batakari, but while the batakari is made up of a flowing gown and trousers of varied fabrics, the all-cotton fugu is a hand-woven, plaid tunic-like shirt.

The “dansiki” is an adaptation of the formal or functional smock design. The “dansiki” is more loose-fitting and almost sleeveless. It is suitable for the hot, dry season.
To distinguish between traditional royalty and citizens of the north, smock producers produce “royal smocks” which are for chiefs. These come with a cap, trousers and knee-length leather boots.

Types

There are various types of traditional smocks peculiar to various traditional areas of Northern Ghana which produce the bulk of the nation’s traditional smocks. There are generally three traditional smock designs identified with the country’s Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions.

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The country’s Upper West Region is known for producing the best “cool colour” smocks. These generally combine different shades of blue and green or both colours with other “quiet colours” such as yellow, white, blue and green.

The Upper East Region is noted for “warm colour” smocks in which various shades of red or orange dominate other colours of the fabric. The Northern Region is noted for its “heavy duty” smocks-so called because of their generally large size and heavy fabric.

There are now various designs of traditional smocks for different occasions such as festivals, the performance of rituals funerals, weddings, child- naming ceremonies, as well as for leisure wear and informal occasions.

The fugu may incorporate two or more colours. Some common colour combinations are red, blue and white, black and white only, green, and white, green and red, deep or light black and white etc.

The fugu has a wide range of embroidery on the front, back and around the neck, most of them quite startlingly artistic. The typical colour for smock embroidery is white.

The wide range in quality of smocks is reflected in the range of prices, which may be as moderate as GH¢100 cedis or up to several hundred cedis. Traditional trousers and a cap to match will usually raise the cost of the traditional outfit considerably.

Styles

The modern fugu has distinctive styles. These include Yenkisi, a sleeveless smock usually used by males, including chiefs. This is worn over long and short sleeved T-shirts.
The second type of smock is the Banaga, which has short sleeves, usually above the elbow and is associated with success and well-being.

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The Jampa is the third smock type. The sleeves extend to the wrist. This smock indicates that one belongs to a high status or is a minor chief.

Another important smock type is the Kpakoto. This comprises the fugu, a pair of trousers and a cap (the three-in-one). It has long and very wide sleeves and is usually worn by paramount chiefs during important events.

The more elaborate style is known as the Kuntundi, which has long full and very wide sleeves. It is normally worn only by paramount chiefs during important events.

Historically, the smock was rarely seen in the West. As recently as the 1990s, immigrants from Ghana were the only individuals seen wearing the smock. All of that changed as the popularity of films produced in Ghana increased among Black Americans and Caribbeans. In recent years people of African descent have started wearing smocks to churches, mosques, African festivals, and Kwanzaa celebrations in major Western cities like New York and Kingston, Jamaica.

In an ingenious blending of African and Western cultures, many public officers and dignitaries are wearing the smock over shirt and tie, and how they blend with a distinguished uniqueness!

Thanks to this exposure, the average tourist or foreign visitor to Ghana who leaves the country without at least one traditional smock in his luggage is probably an exception these days.

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