TRADITIONAL hat-wearing has been a unique culture for Zanzibar for many decades.
The hat, popularly known as kofia ya kiua, is made locally by young women who take about one to five weeks to complete the weaving process of a single hat, depending on how busy the maker is.
But the kofia ya kiua business, which employs mainly women in villages as an additional income-generating activity, is being threatened by increasing machine-made hats from the Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia and China.
Traditional hats, locally hand-made by women, are considered the best and durable costing 50,000/- to 100,000/-. However, they are threatened by imported cheap kofia sold between 5,000/- and 20,000/-. The kofia is a brimless cylindrical cap with a flat crown, worn by men in the East African coast.
Kofia is a Swahili word that means hat, mainly worn by Muslims, normally with a kanzu, a white robe/dress with a tassel. With the booming tourist industry, many visitors like the hats which are also worn by men to spur their traditional dress in Comoro, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia.
Tanzanian politician Augustine Mrema and late Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta are among the leaders who loved wearing a kofia almost at all times. The traditional kofia has tiny pin holes in the cloth that allows the air to circulate.
"We are still engaged in making kofia, but the business has not grown because the orders have remained the same for quite long, despite relatively stable price," says Mwanajuma Kombo of South Unguja. "Making the kofia is a challenging task that is why its price is good. However, the influx of cheap kofia is threatening our business. People now rush for the cheap kofia," she says.
These days, traders go abroad to import the machine-made kofia from the Middle East, China and Indonesia and sell it to the local market, Kombo says. Asha Omar, another kofia maker, appeals to government authorities to help boost production of home-made hats by restricting imports because it is an important source of income for some women in rural areas.
"Women making kofia ya kiua have been playing an important role in promoting the Zanzibar culture," she argues. Lulu Msham Abdalla, Deputy Minister responsible for culture, says conservation of arts and crafts produced in the country should be preserved and protected. "I encourage Zanzibaris to value and preserve their culture including the traditional hat," she says.
Most of hand-crafts are made in Paje and Makunduchi villages, in Unguja South region. Khatib Ali, a trader selling hats at Darajani area says, "we sell both the Zanzibar traditional hats and imported ones." He says the traditional hats remain expensive because of their uniqueness and the weaving process.
Historians in Zanzibar say the kofia ya kiua, also known as barghashia, was named after Sultan Barghashi (1870-1888).
It is found in a variation of colours and originally associated with Arab culture and Islam. Researchers consider culture as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of phenomena that are transmitted through social learning in human societies.
Cultural universals are found in all human societies; these include expressive forms like art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies like tool usage, cooking, shelter and clothing.