Amazing Aprons: The Essential Wardrobe Staple Worn By Traditional Kenyan Communities

By National Museums of Kenya

Nandi SistersNational Museums of Kenya

What is an apron?

Before the coming of modern, western attire, Kenyan communities covered their bodies with different types of skirts and aprons. Usually covering the front of the body and tied around the waist, the aprons were used for practical, ceremonial and decorative purposes. They were primarily used to cover the wearer’s private parts.

ApronNational Museums of Kenya

Who wore them?

The aprons were usually worn by mature, initiated persons. Young children walked naked because a child’s bare body was not viewed as nudity.

Muthambi Initiate by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Muthambi apron

An illustration of a Muthambi boy wearing a leather apron.

Chuka Elderly Woman by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Chuka apron

An illustration of an elderly Chuka woman past childbearing age. The beads on her apron are a symbol of her age and social status.

Kuria Man by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Kuria apron

An illustration of a Kuria man in elaborate attire and equipped with war weapons. His apron also covers his upper body and is decorated with beads.

Maasai Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Maasai apron

An illustration of a Maasai warrior or moran, wearing ceremonial regalia and holding traditional weaponry.

Front Apron by Mrs. LekarsintaNational Museums of Kenya

How were they made?

The aprons were made of materials such as leather, animal skins, tree barks, leaves and beads. Leather skirts were made from several pieces of leather stitched together to make a whole costume. In many cases the leather was obtained from animals that were slaughtered for special rituals. The skin was then treated and colour was applied to make its appearance pleasant.

Front ApronNational Museums of Kenya

What did they symbolize?

The aprons could be an indicator of the person’s identity, community, marital status, number of children, and even their place of belonging. The colour of the apron or skirt was also an important indicator of the person’s ritual or social status. Some communities preferred to leave the fur on the skins they wore for body cover, because the colour – white or black – signified and conferred some ritually important status on the wearer.

ApronNational Museums of Kenya

How were aprons used by the Turkana community?

The Turkana community were known for their beautifully decorated skirts and aprons. In this community, once a newly-wed woman entered her marital home, she discarded all her old aprons and would wear a new abwo skirt made from the skins of her in-laws' cattle. It symbolised her transition from a young girl to a married woman who belonged to her husband’s household. She would also wear an adwel apron, which was decorated with metal beads to denote her status as a mother.

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