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Footwear—you know, shoes, sandals, socks, etc. These items of clothing are so commonplace that it's almost laughable to imagine a time before them. But everyone and everything has a beginning, including different types of footwear in other parts of Africa. Let's see where it all started.


"Who walks in the mud, at some point, must clean his feet."


Egypt

It's widely known that early Egyptians wore sandals made from leather or straw, worn mostly by the elite and only when stepping outside. It was a symbol of status. So much so that when King Tut's tomb was opened, they found over 81 pairs of footwear, including extravagantly decorated flip-flops.


Southern Africa

In the high grass and arid land of the sub-Saharan African bush, the Khoisan people, the first to inhabit the area, creating a specific type of footwear to survive. When European settlers arrived, they combined the shoe with their own design and created the shoe we know today as the 'Veldtschoen.' At the time, it was made from a sift rawhide or tanned leather with a rubber sole.


"If you keep your head and heart going in the right direction, you don't have to worry about your feet."


West Africa

Leatherwork crafted by the Hausa people was considered legendary throughout West Africa. They often dyed their leather with natural pigments, much like henna, adding creating beautiful visual elements.


For instance, take a look at these early 20th-century camel-riding boots decorated with woven leather. Did you know that to complement their royal cloaks and gowns, Northern Nigeria Hausa rulers would line their footwear's insets with ostrich feathers?


Ghana 

The Akans people had the Ahenema, a local slipper that commanded respect, majesty, and authority in society. Initially, the soles of the shoe ware made from leaves, then later tree bark. The shoes were later made with leather, which they called 'chawchaw,' and was exclusively used for kings and some queens. Strips of gold and silver ornaments can be found in sandals made for chiefs.


These are only a few stories of Africa's history with footwear. Hopefully, you've learned a few things and gained a new perspective on what we put on our feet and why.

  • Sep 24
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  • Mariam Garuba