Malawi is a southeastern African country often called the "warm heart of Africa," owing to the warm reception and friendliness of its people. Malawi prides in its age-long culture of love and co-habiting, and which had in turn shaped the lives of the people.
Just like every other countries in Africa continent, Malawi is made up of many diverse tribes, with varying beliefs and customs. Malawi's traditional culture is characterized by continuity, as well as change sprawling from the shores of modernization.
Simplicity is often the keyword of Malawi fashion. This is because clothing is generally designed very simple in the country.
Basically, Chitenji/Chitenge is a very popular clothing of the Malawi women, and also forms the regular attire at Malawian traditional weddings. This fabric is mostly used as an apron by the women.
In the African society since time immemorial, dresses usually symbolize the status of an individual in the society. The Malawi fashion has always been subjected to constant change. But, with the emergence of new techniques and improvement in the supply of raw materials, Malawi fashion has developed to a large extent. Nevertheless, the chitenge dressing style in Malawi largely depends on the occasion.
To date, chitenge is the most popular traditional wedding attire worn in Malawi. This beautiful cotton fabric is wax printed, using rotary printing machines. Most often, it is a multicolored, dark wax print on a lighter background. Interestingly, the narrative is tagged incomplete without some discussion on the fashion. While African fabrics are usually worn as part of a structured outfit in the West, in Malawi, the fabric in its 'raw' form is the most common item of clothing for women. The chitenge fabric is a versatile piece of rectangular fabric normally worn around the waist or chest to cover clothing underneath.
Chitenges have also become very popular as fashion statements in urban pop culture with African youths donning themselves graciously in the wax print. Chitenges are largely incorporated in clothing items, such as hoodies, trousers, and even accessories, such as bags.
The fabric material is usually thick plain weaved light-weight that is high tensioned on warp and weft with prints on either sides. It is made from a plain weave cloth, as the selvedges are firm and well woven. Chitenge forms continuous prints lengthwise with no distinct border lines separating one piece from the adjacent piece.
Chitenge is called ‘the communicating textile’ because of the various colors, patterns, inscriptions, and symbols which represent moods, feelings, cultures, and traditions of native African people. With the witty creativity of African designers, chitenge has been able to retain its stunning styles at traditional weddings.
Formerly, chitenges were never worn by men in Malawi for a long time, but the efforts of the country’s President have chiefly encouraged its use by Malawian men. Be it chitenge or ankara fabric, they are often massively produced colorfully with 100% cotton cloth to make clothing of all sorts. Primarily, there is no difference between the two fabrics. The two fabrics (chitenge and ankara) represent our heritage and can be easily substituted when they are not sewn.
The method of producing the chitenge fabric is known as batik, a wax resist dyeing technique and ancient art form that originates from Indonesia.
The print design and colors do look the same on both the front and back sides of the fabric. However, the quality of the fabric is dependent on the type of cotton cloth used, as well as the manufacturing processes used.
A whole ‘double’ piece of chitenge fabric is 12 yards in length, its half length could be gotten in 6-yard-length. The width of the fabric also varies between different manufacturers as it is usually between 46 and 48 inches.