My place in the world


When you wear certain clothes you are telling others something about yourself. Across Africa, textiles can be used to show your place in society, how rich you are or maybe how important you are. The quantity you own, the colours and symbols they display are clues. Their meanings have changed through time but continue to make statements today.

Mohamed Djama Hassan

Mohamed Djama Hassan was born in Somalia and came to Bristol in 2002. He is a translator, community and schools worker and food entrepreneur. Two of the projects he is currently involved with are the annual Bristol Somali Festival and ‘I Belong Here’, part of ‘Journey to Justice’.

Historically, Somali people all wear different clothing and we’ve got connections and influences from the Middle East and Arab world because of our geographical place in the whole of Africa. Men traditionally wear a white sheet that they wrap around their waist. They also wear on the top a plain white shirt, showing no one is above the others. But in terms of status there is a particular outfit that is worn by clan leaders or tribe leaders and that is like an Indonesian sarong. It’s something that is only worn by people with status within the community. Even though that was how things were, now, because of the arrival of the colonial power, that’s where we had the western influence and it doesn’t really show the status or the power that one has but it becomes kind of normal that everyone wears trousers and jeans and a pair of shoes. While men’s clothing in Somalia is influenced from the arrival of the colonial power, women’s influence was more toward the Middle East and Arab world. They started wearing Dirac, which is a long dress usually made of about 100 per cent cotton. This dress is usually worn with a long skirt called a Gorgorad. The material and texture will be different according to the women’s position within the society.

So I have talked mainly about how things were back in Somalia and wanted to touch a little bit about how I have brought my cultural suitcase or baggage here to Bristol – how I show my ‘Somaliness’ and my cultural identity to the people that I live with. Friday prayers or Eid celebrations or even on wedding occasions, I wear the sarong to go to mosque, to showcase my culture to non-Somalis, as well as young Somalis who were born and bred here, who really don’t know anything about Somali culture, what people used to wear. It is something that really needs to be discussed and shared with young people who were born here in the UK who cannot grasp the idea of the cultural identity they have.

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Male Clothing

  • Gundhatee: White cotton sheet wrapped around them as a skirt and another white piece used as a shawl.
  • Macawis: A sarong-like garment, worn around the waist.
  • Khamis: A long ankle-length white garment, it is originated from the Arab countries and is seen as more religious clothing.

Female Clothing

  • Garab, Guntiino or Garays: A guntiino is a long piece of cloth which is tied over the shoulder and draped around the woman’s waist.
  • A Dirac: is a long dress usually made of 100 percent cotton or cotton blends including linen or polyester. This dress is worn over a slip and a brassiere.