The Politics of Dress in Somali Culture

The Politics of Dress in Somali Culture

Heather Marie Akou
Distribution: World
Publication date: 5/30/2011
Format: paper 200 pages, 30 b&w illus., 1 map
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-22313-5
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The universal act of dressing—shared by both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, minority and majority—has shaped human interactions, communicated hopes and fears about the future, and embodied what it means to be Somali. Heather Marie Akou mines politics and history in this rich and compelling study of Somali material culture. Akou explores the evolution of Somali folk dress, the role of the Somali government in imposing styles of dress, competing forms of Islamic dress, and changes in Somali fashion in the U.S. With the collapse of the Somali state, Somalis continue a connection with their homeland and community through what they wear every day.

Author Bio

Heather Marie Akou is Assistant Professor in the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, Indiana University Bloomington. Her work appears in Contemporary African Fashion (IUP, 2010) and Fashioning Africa (IUP, 2004).


"Close studies of non-Western dress are few and far between. African examples are even more rare. This is a welcome addition." —Linda Welters, University of Rhode Island

"Akou provides English readers rare insights into the complexities of dress traditions continually interwoven with political conflicts. . . . Highly recommended." —

"[T]his remarkable study of Somali dress and politics does much to clarify both the Somali peoples history and their present predicaments." —H-AfrArts

"[A]ny unbiased reader will conclude that this is an excellent book, written in a style that will benefit readers across the board. To a large extent, it should benefit scholars and students with cross-cultural and African research and historical interests. Above all, the author should be highly commended for her wonderful insights and excellent research skills." —Africa Today

"[This] book importantly addresses an often-overlooked cultural element and its role in religious and political change." —Journal of Religion in Africa

"Politics of Dress in Somali Culture is a monumental and an assiduous undertaking that deserves commendation, as the publication can serve as an important introduction to Somali history in schools and for the general audience. Above all, the 177-page book is so well written that it should be accessible to both scholars and students." —African and Asian Studies

"[This is] a study that examines clothing clothing and its relationship to political and cultural

changes along a historical continuum primarily from the nineteenth century to the present." —
African Arts

"The Politics of Dress in Somali Culture is a welcome addition to the growing literature on historical and contemporary dress practices in Africa and the diaspora. . . . Akou’s case study broadly demonstrates the globalized nature of Somali dress both historically and today. It is well-written, concise, and touches on many issues that resonate with the history of colonialism, rise (and fall) of a nation state, dispersal into the diaspora, influence of Islam, gender, and creation of national and ethnic identities, making it suitable for course adoption and a general readership." —Museum Anthropology Review

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Table of Contents

Timeline of Events
1 The Political Symbolism of Dress
2 The Origins of Somali Dress—Prehistory to 1800
3 A Class of Civilizations—1800 to 1945
4 Dressing the Nation—1945 to 1991
5 Dress in a Time of Extreme Change—1991 to 2010
6 The Relevance of History
Appendix A – Stamps issued in Somalia, 1960-1980
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