E-30.31.049
"Njoya on his throne during the Harvest Festival in Fumban. In the foreground: his aunt, and the missionaries Geprägs, Schwarz and Göhring."
Wuhrmann, Anna (Ms)
date early : 1911-01-01.0., date late : 1915-12-31.0.


E-30.31.054
"King Njoya and his daughters at the Sowing Festival."
Wuhrmann, Anna (Ms)
date early : 1915-03-01.0., date late : 1915-03-31.0.


E-30.32.056
Schoolgirl."
Wuhrmann, Anna (Ms)
date early : 1911-01-01.0., date late : 1915-12-31.0.

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Clothing and Identity:
Portraits from West Africa and Asia

Clothing and coiffure have close links to social status and identity. Thus clothing serves as a microscope for examining transformations in the lives of individuals and communities undergoing change. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, western clothing was one of the external manifestations of conversion to Christianity in West Africa or, at least, expressed one’s openness to western influence. In Akan societies in Ghana, sumptuary rules regulated clothing and the paraphernalia of the different ranks of chiefs, as it also did for superior and inferior social classes. To dress above one’s rank was ahomaso, arrogance or literally “the lifting of oneself above one’s station,” and invited sharp rebuke. Thus, clothing and political status were closely associated. When ex-Asantehene (King of Asante) returned to Asante from exile on the Seychelles Islands in 1924, his invitation to official colonial functions in Kumase sometimes caused anxiety among colonial circles as to whether he would come clothed in indigenous royal garb. His use of appropriate western clothing on such sensitive occasions allayed colonial fears and assured the colonial government of his political loyalty. Cultural exchange and military alliances could also be mirrored in clothing. Around 1880, King Njoya of Bamum, Cameroon, entered into a military alliance with the Muslim Fulbe kingdom of Banyo. In affirmation of this political alliance, Christraud Geary points out that the “king and his courtiers converted to Islam and began to wear Hausa-style attire, imported by the Hausa from the north.” [“Patterns from Without, Meaning from Within” (Boston University, African Studies Center Working Paper, 1989), 7.] With the advent of German colonial rule, there was a shift in King Njoya’s clothing to reflect this new influence, and from 1905 he often posed in German military regalia – received as gifts from German colonial officials – for photographers. King Njoya’s disenchantment with German rule from 1909 was again revealed in a shift back to Hausa Muslim clothing.
It is striking that that Indian and Chinese Christians, from the Basel Mission photo collection, did not necessarily view western clothes as a necessary expression of religious conversion. Both being old sites of civilizations with distinct architecture, literacy, clothing and established textile industries, it is apparent that they interacted with European missionaries on a rather different footing. Indian clothing, for example, was quite similar to western clothes in many ways: the turban for a man’s head, a long-sleeved “shirt,” a kilt-like trousers; women wore what seemed like a blouse and a long, loose skirt, and a sari wrapped around the waist and draped over the head. Such clothes fully covered the body and appealed to European missionaries, who sometimes adopted these clothes. The same applied to the Bali robes of the Bali-Nyonga of Cameroon, which were sometimes worn by European missionaries. Such use of indigenous clothing by missionaries made them “familiar” and accessible. The Akan cloth, worn like a Roman toga, requires more skill to keep in place and leaves the upper chest and shoulder uncovered. This, probably, discouraged European missionaries from experimenting with cloth.
In E-30.31.049, King Njoya is elaborately dressed in Muslim garb with a turban around the head and lower chin during the Harvest Festival in Fumban, the capital of Bamum. This photo was taken after 1909, when the king gave up wearing European military attire. In E-30.31.054, about thirty beautifully dressed daughters of King Njoya stand behind him at a respectful distance. Their bearing underscores and reinforces royal status. In E-30.32.056, we see a photograph of a schoolgirl in a western dress with the customary Bamum necklace. Missionaries in West Africa sometimes gave clothes as an enticement for parents to send their children to mission schools. In E-30.25.039 and E-30.25.041, Basel missionaries are shown wearing traditional Bali robes, a reflection of cultural exchange.
In E-30.26.014, “a group of pupils and teachers in Bali,” the teachers are in formal western attire and stand in a very studied pose. African teachers were a new social class and a by-product to mission education. Western clothing was central to their new social identity. In colonial Ghana, teachers, catechists and pastors were called akrakyefo (“gentlemen”), marked by literacy and western clothing. In D-30.17.015, we are shown Pastor Kwafo’s ordination in Kumase, a group of seventeen African men and two European missionaries. The two Europeans and two Africans are in cassock, the rest of the African men are in suits (including three-piece suits) and ties with hats held. Western clothes could signify redemption from slavery. Slaves in pre-colonial Ghana were often scantily dressed, and the freed child slaves in Kumase in D-30.17.035 are in European clothes, underscoring the processes of redemption and conversion.
Indian missionary workers, mission school pupils, and Christians mostly wore Indian clothes in the photographs in the Basel collection (see C-30.52.003 and C-30.52.005). Indeed, European missionaries sometimes wore Indian clothes, as in C-30.52.002. But in C-30.52.019, we see Immanuel, an Indian Muslim converted to Christianity in 1908, in western clothes. Christianity and western clothing were part of a larger search for new identities in India and Immanuel was certainly an active agent in this process.
The photos from China also show Chinese missionary workers and mission school pupils often in Chinese clothes (see A-30.01.016 and A-30.01.023). But Chinese seminarians and teachers were sometimes photographed in very formal western attire, and the group in Lilong in A-30.02.016 are seen in three piece-suits, ties, hats held, and one have a walking stick. Was this use of western clothing a reflection of their level of education? In A-30.06.022 local assistants in “modern dress,” according to the caption are photographed with Reverends Gohl and Krayl between 1902 and 1907. Interestingly, these Chinese assistants opted for military-looking attire with military type hats to boot. In addition, they look ill at ease compared to the above photograph of seminarians and teachers in Lilong. The level of education was certainly a factor in acculturation, and one of the most visible indices of western enculturation was clothing.
Personal grooming was equally important, and hairstyles among West African women mirrored social status. Slave women had unkempt hair.

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