Friday, February 10, 2012

Dashikis - An Adaptation Of The Yoruba Dansiki

Edited by Azizi Powell

[revised November 27, 2017)

This post provides information, comments, and video examples of the article of clothing that is called a "dashiki".

The content of this post is presented for cultural and informational purposes.

All content remains with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these featured videos.

A dashiki [dah-SHE-kee] is a shirt that was originally marketed only for males. Dashikis were "must have" articles of clothing for afro-centric African American males in the 1970s, as wearing a dashiki symbolized pride in one's African heritage.

The word "dashiki" is an American (African American) form of the Nigerian word "dansiki" (pronounced dahn-SHE-kee). According to Norma H. Wolff in her book Dashikis, "The Yoruba borrowed the word from the Hausa dan ciki (literally "underneath"), which refers to a short tunic worn by males under larger robes."

*This sentence is part of an excerpt found in the next section below.

"Africa, sub-Saharan: history of dress
Men’s trouser shapes vary considerably. Along with Western fashions found across the continent, indigenous fashions also abound. In Nigeria, Hausa men wear enormously large drawstring breeches with a “baba riga” over the top. Yoruba men wear both wide or narrow trousers, often as a three-piece outfit along with a robe (agbada) and shirt (dansiki). When the men’s ensemble is tailored from colorful, wax-printed cotton, the Yoruba outfit is interpreted as being informal. If made from damask, lace, eyelet, brocade, or the handwoven textile of nubby, native silk that the Yoruba call sanyan (produced by a different silk worm than the Asian one), the ensemble is considered formal."

"The Grand Boubou/Bubu is one of the names for a flowing wide sleeved robe worn by men in much of West Africa, and to a lesser extent in North Africa, related to the Dashiki suit. 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 Francophone West African countries) and the English term of Gown. The Senegalese Boubou, a variation on the Grand Boubou described below, is also known as the Senegalese kaftan. The female version worn in some communities is also known as a M'boubou or Kaftan....

The Grand 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 pronounced "Shokoto" 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... the Grand boubou is now mostly made from cotton and synthetic cloths made to resemble silk."

"The dashiki found a market in America during the Black cultural and political struggles in the 1960s. A prototype was developed in 1967 by Jason Benning, Milton Clarke, Howard Davis, and William Smith. These young professionals formed a company called New Breed to produce dashikis. It was located in a 2-room clothing store at 147th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in the Harlem section of Manhattan. Articles on New Breed appeared in Ebony Magazine and the New York Times (4/20/69).

The dashiki was featured in the movies Uptight (1968), Putney Swope (1969), and the weekly television series Soul Train (1971). See also Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America, Track 14:28 (2010). Jim Brown, Wilt Chamberlain, Sammy Davis Jr., and Bill Russell were among the well-known Black athletes and entertainers who wore the dashiki on talk shows.

The term dashiki begins appearing in print at least as early as mid-1968: an article by Faith Berry in the New York Times Magazine includes it on July 7, 1968. Reporting on the 1967 Newark riots in the Amsterdam News on July 22, 1967, George Barner refers to a new African garment called a "danshiki." "Dashiki" first appeared in the Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1st College Edition 1970/72."

UPDATE 1/23/2015
From "Dashiki" By Norma H. Wolff
"A dashiki is a loose-fitting, pullover shirt usually sewn from colorful, African-inspired cotton prints or from solid color fabrics, often with patch pockets and embroidery at the neckline and cuffs. The dashiki appeared on the American fashion scene during the 1960s when embraced by the black pride and white counterculture movements. "Dashiki" is a loanword from the West African Yoruba term danshiki, which refers to a short, sleeveless tunic worn by men. The Yoruba borrowed the word from the Hausa dan ciki (literally "underneath"), which refers to a short tunic worn by males under larger robes....

Worn by increasing numbers of young white Americans attracted to the bright colors and ornate embroidery, the dashiki lost much of its black political identity and epitomized the larger scene of changing American society....

Throughout its history in American fashion, the dashiki has functioned as a significant, but sometimes ambiguous, identity marker. In its earliest manifestation, with the Afro hairstyle, headgear, and African beads, it was associated with black power, the "Black Is Beautiful" movement, and the development of Afrocentrism...

In the early days of the twenty-first century, the dashiki has retained meaning for the African American community and a historical marker of the 1960s counterculture. While seldom seen as street wear, the dashiki is worn at festive occasions such as Kwanzaa, the annual celebration to mark the unity of Americans of African descent and express pride in African heritage (Goss and Goss)."
Italics added by me to highlight that sentence.

UPDATE: 1/23/2015
"The dashiki was introduced as a way to protest society’ s disrespect for Blacks. It was a symbol of affirmation, standing for “Black is Beautiful,” a return to African roots, and insistence on full rights in American society. Marion Berry, later to become mayor of Washington, D.C., was then one of the rebels leading the “Free DC Movement” to gain voting rights for the mostly Black residents of Washington. Sam Smith, editor of The Progressive Review, recalled that in those days the press would describe him as “dashiki-clad Negro militant Marion Barry.” The 1960s were the hippie era, too, and whites in the counterculture sometimes adopted the dashiki for its rebellious symbolism as well as its anti-mainstream fashion statement.

The militancy of the 1960s has faded, but the dashiki has not. It still serves as a symbol of Africanness within American culture, as in the celebration of Kwanzaa. It is also sometimes an ingredient of high fashion or just a colorful, comfortable shirt for all occasions"...
That blog post includes a number of photographs of dashikis, including one that features a woman wearing that top. Among afro-centric African American women in the late 1960s and 1970s (including me), dashikis were considered a male only item of clothing and females who wore dashikis were looked upon with disdain because they didn't know or didn't adhere to that "fact".

UPDATE: 8/6/2014
Click for information about Oba Adefunmi.
That article indicates that Oba Adefunmi "Introduced the Danshiki and began small scale manufacture of African attire in the summer of 1960. Founded the Yoruba Academy for the academic study of Yoruba history, religion and language in 1961. Opened the Ujamaa Market in 1961 beginning a trend of African boutiques, which, like the Danshiki, spread throughout African American communities."
-end of quote-
His Royal Highness Oba Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi was the founder and head of the Yoruba Temple in New York City, and was the founder and leader of the Yoruba Village of Oyotunji in Beaufort County South Carolina in 1970.

Also click for information about Oyotunji Village.

While Oba Adefunmi certainly could have manufactured and sold shirts in his Ujamaa Market that later came to be known as "dashikis", I believe that that term wasn't used for those shirts until the late 1960s.

From 1967-1969 I was a member of the African cultural nationalist organization known as "The Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN). For a portion of that time, and afterwards, that organization was headed by poet, playwright, and community activist Amiri Baraka (formerly Le-Roi Jones). For some reason, "garb" was the general term that members of this cultural national organization called our garments - handmade or store bought - (particularly the female garments). Here are my recollections of the adult outer clothing attire (excluding fall/winter jackets & coats) that was worn by members of that organization:

Men wore regular clothing (store bouoght pants & shirts) most days. On special occassions, in the spring, summer, and early fall, men wore short sleeve (usually hand made) usually v necked dashikis. These dashikis were made of "so-called" African print, or were a solid (one) color. The men might accessorize their dashikis with a large Egyptian ankh necklace, or with a red, green, and black large beaded necklace.

In the colder months, for special occassions, men wore pants and long sleeve turtle necked sweaters under their dashikis. Few members of that organization owned a grand boubou or agbada. I however recall that Zayd, one of the male leaders of that organization wore an agbada on at least one occassion.

Men who were members of that organization rarely wore any African hats.

Tops: In the spring, summer, and early fall, women wore bubas (simply sewed tops with little or no designs), or one color t-shirts to match a color in their their skirts. In the later fall & winter, women wore long sleeve sweeters, including "turtle neck" sweaters as tops.

Skirts: Women wore about 2 1/2 inches of store bought fabric that we wrapped around and tied (with no belt or pins). The African term that we used for those wrap around skirts was or "lapas" (lah-pahs), a term that decades later I read was used for wrap around skirts in Liberia, West Africa. Although we knew the terms "bubas" and "gele", members of that African cultural organization didn't know the word "iro", the Yoruba Nigeria term for wrap around skirts.

That same material could be worn in some form of toga like dress, although that was rarely done. Women also wore handmade or store bought long skirts, handmade (sewing machine) or store bought long dresses, usually in a caftan style. Most of these skirts/dresses (wrapped or sewn) were near ankle length, but some were more "midi" length (ignificantly below the knees). (Recall that in the late 1960s, American women were wearing mini skirts, so our clothing attire was quite outside the norm).

It's important to emphasize that in that particular cultural nationalist organization, and among other afro-centric African Americans of that time, dashikis were strictly a male only attire.

It was very rare for members of this organization, female or male, to own store bought African clothing which was, allegedly anyway, made of "real" African fabric, and imported from Africa. The sewn garments were handmade by one or more of the sisters of the organization or a female relatives of the male or female members. In particular, I recall that the mother of one male member of the organization sewed (on a sewing machine) bubas (tops), dresses, and sewed the borders for the "lapas/gele" materials that many women members of that organization wore. She also made a lot of the dashikis that the men of the organization wore. Sometimes she sold some of these garbs for a very low cost, and sometimes she gifted the clothing that she made.

Headwraps- Women sometimes wore a headwrap (a wrapped around piece of material) for everyday wear. However, on special occassions such as the once a week organization's gathering* which was open to the community, a women's attire wasn't considered to be complete unless she wore a matching headwrap (gele). If you weren't heavyset, the same piece of material which was worn as a wraparound skirt could also be worn as a gele. These headwraps were always tied and never pinned. There were various styles in which women wore their headwraps. I preferred (and still sometimes wear) my geles in styles which approximate the Yoruba styles of headwraps in which one or more pieces of material was left out. However, the "crown" look where all end pieces were tucked in was the usual style of headwraps for members of that organization. That "crown" style was NOT the same as the tall turban look that neo-soul singer Erykah Badu was later known for. Female members of our group could have shown sister Erykah a more attractive, more "authentic" way of wrapping her gele.

Children wore "regular" clothing and no African head wraps for girls and no African hats for males.

*Those weekly gatherings were cultural events in which various members, including Amiri Baraka would read poetry, some of the male members of organization would play conga drums (djembes were known to very few African Americans then), and a group of the brother in the organization (known as the Simba Wachunga- Swahili for "young brothers") would perform the South African boot dance. Similar to a church service, the main portion of the program consisted of one of the group's leaders (usually male) speaking about a subject pertaining to African cultural nationalism such as Maulana Karenga's Kawaida (Seven Principle). Those same seven principles comprise the days of Kwanzaa.

Religion wasn't something that was talked about in that organization, and I believe that most of the organization's members (including me) were Christians, albeit, usually-at that time- not church going Christians. There was very little mention of religious or spiritual beliefs in those weekly gatherings. That said, I vaguely recall some mention of (what I now know is is the Zulu Supreme deity) Unkulunkulu - the leadership of that organization was very eclectic in the "Africanims" that were grafted into that organization's customs & "beliefs". We used the English word "no" but for "yes" we used the Zulu word "yebo". And I can't recall using any African language greeting, but the "Kwaida" principles were from the Swahili language as was Kwanzaa, which was the only African holiday we celebrated. (People alo celebrated birthdays and other holidays privately if they wanted to). Perhaps because that organization wasn't religious based, there was only a little chanting, and that was of slogans like "It's Nation Time!" and "Black Power!".

When I reflect on that organization, what is surprising is that-besides the male boot dancers, there was little to no African dancing. And, given the leadership of Amiri Baraka, it's somewhat surprising that there were no dramatic skits. Also, there was no singing, not even during Kwanzaa. And that is contrary to African American traditions.

By the way, unlike Muslim gatherings, there were no separate seating for males and females and men and women usually sat together. Also, since those gatherings were recruiting as well as teaching occassions, the organization's members were encourgaged to sit with people from the community who came for the cultural program. Those folks could usually be distinguished from the organization's members because they usually didn't wear "African garb" like dashikis or long dresses & headwraps.

Video #1: Lágbájá - Lùlù Fuń Wọn

Motherlan on Jun 1, 2010
From that video's viewer comment thread:
..."it's called oriki... a sort of praise mixed with epithets. It loses its strength and deep meaning if translated to english....

basically the man in purple & yellow is singing epithets to Lagbaja (and a bit of his lineage too). And Lagbaja is upset with him and warns him to stop the oriki, probably because he does not want him to reveal his identity (Lagbaja i.e. since nobody knows who he is). Then, the man invites him to dance and he does.
-taganew; 2011
This video shows Yoruba men wearing dansikis with or without the long outer "agbada" garment.

Note that the videos of a traditional Yoruba formal attire for men (agbadas over dansikis and pants) are no longer available. I've substituted two other videos.

Those videos also show women's formal attire including the "buba" (blouse; pronounced boo-bah), "iro" (wrap around skirt, pronounced e-row), and "gele" (head wrap, pronounced gay-lay), all made of Yoruba "aso oke" (pronounced ah-soh oh-kay) cloth.


SCOBO SHOT IT clear picture digital, Published on Aug 16, 2016

Video #: 3Nigerian Engagment & Wedding of Joshua & Olamide

Justice Films & Studio, Published on Aug 17, 2017

Justice Films & Studio present Nigerian Engagment & Wedding of Joshua & Olamide
Contrast those traditional Yoruba garments with the adapted African American shirt called the dashiki that is shown in the following two videos:

Video #4: Vintage Mens & Womens 70s ethnic TRIBAL dashiki

Uploaded by Carlos Kai Vega on Oct 31, 2011

Vintage 1970s Dashiki's

Video #5: Gold Embroidered Dashiki | Africa Imports

Uploaded by afseller on Oct 22, 2010

African Chic Gold Embroidered Dashiki.

This black dashiki with shimmering gold embroidery is the perfect way to complete any look. Embroidery varies on each dashiki. 100% rayon; best if hand washed. Fits up to a 50" chest and 30" length. Kufi hat fits 24" circumference. Made in Pakistan.
Note that these dashikis were "Made in Pakistan" and not in Nigeria or any other African nation. It's my understanding that most "so-called "African fabric" such as that used for the ubiquitous dashikis shown in Video #4 were from Asia and not Africa.

One video I found online indicated that "traditional tribal" dashiki and shorts was its largest selling item. Double Ugh for the words "traditional and tribal". I prefer the word "ethnic" because of the negative connotations of the word "tribal". To a large extent, those negative connotations stem from the fact that "tribal" is rarely if ever used to refer to White people. When have you ever heard of a White European tribe?

Back in the 1960s and 1970s at least African Americans had the excuse that information about traditional African clothing wasn't readily available. In the early 21st century, thanks in large part to the Internet in general and YouTube specifically, that excuse is no longer valid.

And after seeing the traditional African clothing, including those wore by the Yorubas of Nigeria, I can truly say "Ain't nothin like the real thing, baby".

Example #7: Maliki Pandeiro in Uncle Jerry's Dashiki (Maliki Pandeiro no Dashiki do Tio Jerry)

Malikilam Uploaded on Oct 2, 2010

Well, I recently inherited this dashiki from my Uncle Jerry who just passed away. So, this is a tribute to him.

On some level it's nice useful and enjoyable to take existing very seriously and focus on whatever is designated as important in our culturo-temporal context (yes, I'm making up words cause that's how I do), AND (not BUT but AND because this is about unification not distinction) it is also nice, useful and enjoyable to jump into an experience with a lot less preconception and simply play like a kid.

So, this play session is dedicated to one of the cats who laid the foundation on which I do my thing (and hopefully lay some foundations for other folks), my Uncle Jerry. I suppose you could say my Uncle Jerry was a sort of bridge in that he came out of Harlem NYC in an era that was, from what he told me, very much a different scene than what I am used to. It seems like competition (for resources, self-esteem and space to exist) was highlighted in the consciousness of that world, and, interestingly enough, the underlying unity and harmony continually found its way up through the cracks in the cement jungle (doesn't it always eventually?).
From that background Uncle Jerry bridged out to travel the world, explore Eastern religions, make up songs about how he was going to force us kids to eat oatmeal, tell us to feel how strong his biceps were and then catch our hand between his biceps and forearm and not let go, dress to the nines in white suits with butterfly collars, drink Gewürztraminer wine and smack his lips in spirals of excessive glee, hit on women half his age, stay in the ocean and pool longer than any land mammal should, write articles on African-American history and physics to try to educate youngsters, and generally tell everybody what to do and how to do it.

Thanks Uncle Jerry!

Example #7: BEST OF NIGERIAN FASHION "natives"

Godson Eh, Published on Oct 12, 2012

Nigeria is a very diverse Nation. Every tribes has their own costumes and styles of dressing,eating and dancing and singing. Here in this pictures, you have some of the various form of dressing popularly know in Nigeria as "Natives" presented

Pictures Of Nigeria Traditional Attire

Pinning Birthday Dollars [Notice the Yoruba men & Yoruba women wearing traditional clothing.]

Why I Started Wearing African Dresses
[This post includes another video of Sam & Abiola's engagement ceremony.]

Hat tip to Sally Zhwa Adebayo for inspiring me to work on this post as a result of her letting me know about the Lágbájá video that serves as video #1 of this post.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. In 2013, there are many more afrocentric African American females who own "real" African clothing (usually Senegalese dresses or Yoruba two piece sewn top & skirt, along with a gele). Those outfits are worn on special occassions such as an African dance program.

    It seems to me that far fewer afrocentric African American men own any African clothing and few African American men wear dashikis, as those tops are associated with late 1960s, 1970s attire.

    There was a time - in the 1970s mostly - where afrocentric men-not just Muslims-wore usually hand knitted kufi type hats. Those hats could be any color but were usually red, black, and green, or all black, or all brown. I haven't seen those knitted hats worn by any males for a long time.

  2. Thanks for your comment, scysoft.