A kanzu is a white or cream colored robe worn by men in East African countries. In English, the robe is called a tunic. In Arab countries this clothing is known as Thawb. The kanzu is an ankle or floor length garment. The kanzu is the national costume of Tanzania, and the Comoros, and it is worn in some regions of Kenya. The men of Buganda in Uganda consider it their most important dress. Kanzu is a Luganda word of Swahili origin, which means robe, tunic. In Tanzania the word kanzu is used interchangeably with kaftan.
The thobe is the design.
The traditional kanzu has maroon embroidery around the collar, abdomen, and sleeves. The embroidery is called the omulela. The major center of kanzu knitting and production is Mende, Uganda.
The kanzu is worn at wedding ceremonies during the introduction, also known as the Kwanjula the groom's family is required to appear dressed in kanzu and they must also present a kanzu to the bride's family.
In popular culture, Ugandan clothing was featured in the controversial film, The Last King of Scotland.
In Tanzania, the kanzu was introduced by Arab traders and missionaries from Oman who were conducting dawah. The Tanzanian kanzu is identical to the Arabic thobe. Originally, the kanzu was made from silk. Today, due to Islamic restrictions on silk garments, it is made from polyester or other synthetic fabrics made to resemble silk. The distinctive feature of the Tanzanian kanzu is the tassel that hangs from the collar. In some families, the tassel is perfumed with African oils or Arabic attar (oils) before wedding ceremonies. The kanzu is always worn with a kofia, a small embroidered cap.
In the West, and in many Arab countries, the Tanzanian kanzu is sold by merchants as an Omani thobe, Yemini dishdasha, or Emirati thobe. The best quality kanzus are manufactured in the United Arab Emirates. HKT is one manufacturer. Saudi and inexpensive Chinese made versions are common.
Among the Swahili men of Tanzania and Kenya, the kanzu is always worn with a suit jacket, blazer, or sport coat. For formal wear a Tanzanian man will don a kanzu, a suit jacket, and a kofia (cap). Tribal chiefs wear the kanzu with a black bisht when attending a black tie event. A white or ivory bisht is worn to white tie events. In many Western countries, the bisht is sold by merchants as a Saudi abaya or Abayah. According to custom, a kanzu must be crisp, that is dry cleaned and starched, before it is suitable for formal wear.
The kanzu is the national costume of Tanzania, and is the formal wear of most of the tribes in the country. For informal events, a Saudi manufactured thobe with a mandarin collar or the dashiki shirt and a kofia is the traditional attire. Although the Tanzanian kanzu was borrowed from Arab culture, it is worn by all religious faiths, including Christians, Muslims, African Jews, and members of African traditional religions.
In Kenya, the Tanzanian kanzu is worn by Muslims of all tribes. Christians wear the kanzu for informal events, including church services, but the dashiki shirt or kitenge shirt is used as formal wear for Christian weddings. Both religious communities wear a kofia, a small cap with the kanzu. In Kenya, it is customary for Tribal chiefs and Muslim Imams to wear a black bisht with the kanzu when attending a formal event. Kenya is unique among African nations in that it is the only country that does not have a national costume. In fact, many Kenyan men wear European suits or tuxedos for weddings and other formal events. Others have started to wear the Nigerian national costume which is called an Agbada. In Kenya, male Members of the Parliament are required to wear a European style suit to sessions.
Use of the Tanzanian kanzu has spread throughout Africa. In West Africa, the Tanzanian kanzu is used as an informal robe by many tribes. Dar es Salaam is a center of Islamic learning and many West Africans studying in madrassas in Tanzania brought the kanzu to the region. The kanzu is so popular that many Christian and Jewish tribes have started to wear it. For formal events, the Senegalese kaftan is worn. In West Africa, the Tanzanian tunic is called a kanzu or a Tanzanian kaftan. The two terms are used interchangeably. In West African countries, the Tanzanian kaftan is worn without the suit jacket and with a kufi cap.
The kanzu is the traditional wedding attire for men in East Africa. During wedding ceremonies it is customary for the groom to wear a white kanzu and a kofia. In Tanzania and Kenya, the groom wears a black or white bisht on top of the kanzu. The groomsmen and other men who are members of the wedding party wear the kanzu with a suit jacket. In Uganda, the groom wears a suit jacket on top of the kanzu, and the bride's attire is the gomesi. In Tanzania and Kenya, the bride's attire is a white wedding dress or the West African boubou. Use of East African wedding attire has spread throughout the African diaspora. There are some East Africans who prefer to wed in West African attire, please refer to the dashiki article for further information.
- Senegalese kaftan - robe worn by men in West Africa
- Gomesi - dress worn by women in Uganda
- Kanga - wrapper worn by women in East Africa
- Bisht - cloak worn over the kanzu by tribal chiefs, imams, and kings
- Swahili people
- National costume
- ^ "Definition of Kanzu". http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/ka/kanzu.html.
- ^ a b "Mzuri Kaja Caps". http://mzuri-kaja.or.tz/mzuri%20caps.html.
- ^ "The Swahili tribe". http://www.kenya-information-guide.com/swahili-tribe.html.
- ^ "Kenya Unveils First National Dress". BBC News. 2004-09-16. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3660698.stm. Retrieved 2010-01-05.
- ^ "Kenya MPs Fight Colonial Dress Code". BBC News. 2003-07-17. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/africa/3070131.stm. Retrieved 2010-01-05.
- ^ "What is an African Dress Code?". BBC News. 2004-03-01. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3492932.stm. Retrieved 2010-01-05.
- A Kenyan American wedding
- A photo of Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete at his son's wedding, for further information see, Jakaya Kikwete
- A Tanzanian kanzu 
- A Tanzanian kanzu U.K.