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In South Africa and Namibia, the Afrikaans word doek (meaning "cloth") is used for the traditional head covering used among most elderly local women in rural areas. In other parts of the continent, terms like duku (Malawi, Ghana), dhuku (Zimbabwe), tukwi (Botswana), and gele (Nigeria) are used. The head scarf is used as an ornamental head covering or fashion accessory, or for functionality in different settings. Its uses or meaning can vary depending on the country and/or religion of those who wear it.
In Ghana, opportunity to wear a duku usually falls on a religious day of Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This depends on whether the wearers are Muslim, Seventh-Day Adventists or Sunday church-going Christians.
In Nigeria, the head-ties are known as gele, and can be rather large and elaborate. Although the gele can be worn for day-to-day activities, the elaborate ceremonial ones are worn to weddings, special events, and church activities. It is usually made of a material that is firmer than regular cloth. When worn, especially for more elaborate events, the gele typically covers a woman's entire hair as well as her ears. The only part exposed is her face and earrings on the lower part of her earlobes. The gele is accompanied by traditional local attire that may or may not have the same pattern as the headtie itself.
Malawian head-ties are usually small and conservative compared to the Nigerian style. Women wear duku on special events like funeral. Urban women with plaited hair wear also a duku when visiting the rural as cultural respect. In addition, women may wear duku during sleep to protect the hair.
In South African church services women may wear white "dukus" to cover their heads. At the International Pentecostal churches in South Africa, married women wear white 'dukus'.
According to Professor Hlonipha Mokoena of the Witwatersrand Institute for Social and Economic Research, historically the doek or headscarf was imposed on black women in many colonies by convention or by law as a way to control the sensuality and exoticism that “confused” white men. However, 2016 saw resurgence of wearing doeks through the #FeesMustFall movement among students around South Africa.
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