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Agbada is one of the names for a flowing wide-sleeved robe worn by men in much of the Sahelian region of West Africa, and in the Saharan region of North Africa, related to the dashiki suit.
The garment is known by various names in different ethnic groups and languages that adopted it from the original name of babban riga (large robe) of the Hausa People, variously called agbada in Yoruba and Dagomba, boubou from Wolof mbubb, mbubb in Wolof, k'sa or gandora in Tuareg, darra'a in Maghrebi Arabic, grand boubou in various French-speaking West African countries and the English term 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 or wrapper.
Its origin lies with the Gandora clothing of the Tuareg and their direct neighbours in the northernmost reaches of West Africa who shared many aspects of a desert or near-desert dwelling culture: the northern Hausa, the Kanuri, the Toubou, the Songhai, the Fulani, and the Soninke. The nobility of the 12th and 13th-century Mali and Songhai Empires used what the same clothing, which they referred to as the "boubou". The use of the babban riga/gandora as clothing became widespread throughout the West African region with the migration of Saharan-Sahelian groups: the Hausa, the Soninke, the Tuareg and the Fulani long-distance traders and Islamic preachers in and around Muslim regions of West Africa in the 1500s and even more rapidly after the Fulani Jihad of the 19th century. The use of the Agbada among numerous Sahelian and Saharan tribes is a symbol of the cultural simarities and ties shared between the various Islamised West African groups. The same historic exchange responsible for the spread of the agbada, also resulted in the various culinary, architectural, social, linguistic, musical and artistic similarities shared among groups that inhabit a vast expanse stretching from Mauritania, Western Sahara, and Senegal in the west, to northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad and northern Cameroon in the east.
Agbada is usually decorated with intricate embroidery, and is worn on special religious or ceremonial occasions, such as the two Islamic Eid festivals, weddings, funerals or for attending the Mosque for Friday prayer. It has become the formal attire of many countries in West Africa. Older robes have become family heirlooms passed on from father to son and are worn as status symbols.
There are female versions of the agbada style in Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and many other West African countries. An alternative female formal version of the boubou is also called the wrapper.
Agbada as a full formal attire consists of three pieces of clothing: a pair of tie-up trousers that narrow towards the ankles (known as a sokoto pronounced "shokoto" in Yoruba), a long-sleeved shirt and a wide, open-stitched sleeveless gown worn over these. The three pieces are generally of the same colour, and historically were imported from Sokoto in Hausaland into Yoruba Muslim areas of Oyo. It is made from cotton and richly embroidered in traditional patterns. However modern Yoruba make the Agbada from synthetic cloths that resemble silk in stark contrast to its cotton origins.
Method of wearingEdit
There is a set etiquette to wearing the grand boubou, primarily in place to keep the over-gown above the ankles at any one time, in keeping with Islamic traditions of avoiding impurity (see Najis). This can include folding the open sleeves of the boubou over one's shoulders, normally done while walking or before sitting down, to ensure the over-gown does not rub against the ground, or by folding/wrapping each side over the other with the hand, narrowing the gown's space toward the ankles (as done by the Tuareg people). Thus, it is rare to see the grand boubou's square-shaped gown completely unwrapped.
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Use of agbada was historically limited to various Islamised Sahelian and Saharan peoples of West Africa, but through increased trade and the spread of Islam throughout the region, it gained use among peoples in the savanna and forested regions of West Africa. Through this, the agbada was historically worn by chiefs of the Yoruba of Nigeria, Dagomba of Ghana, the Mandinka of the Gambia, the Susu of Guinea and the Temnes of Sierra Leone.
Today, agbada has gained popularity as a fashionable form of attire among wide classes of people in West Africa, the African diaspora, and very recently, even among Bantu people in East, Southern and Central Africa. In recent years the agbada, together with other garments such as the kaftan, have gained increased recognition in Europe and America.
Although usually a form of men's clothing, women's traditional clothing in much of Sahelian West Africa is of similar construction, though usually worn differently. In some places these are called the m'boubou. In other regions of West Africa, the female formal clothing has been a boubou variant, called a kaftan, and in other places it is the wrapper and headscarf.
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