Gomesi is the de facto national dress of Uganda

Two women wearing a Gomasi and a man in Kanzu in Kampala

Dear Ugandans,

I think we need to find a way to resolve some of the issues ourselves that have divided us for a long time- without even asking for government help. It’s just a matter of common sense. For example, If we agree on the national language as Luganda or national dress as Gomesi, then we can just go home and either implement it or encourage others to do so. We don’t need Museveni or anybody to tell us what to do on this one. Luganda is so widely spoken in the country and as such it qualifies to be our national language. Gomesi has become very popular in all tribes in Uganda such that it qualifies to be our national dress.However, it would be wrong for anybody to sing ‘Ekitibwa kya buganda’ on a national occasion instead of Uganda’s National anthem composed by Kakomo(RIP). The national language has got very good words in it and we should promote it along side the defacto dressing code and language.

women wearing gomasi on Kampala streets

As for Ugandans not wearing the national dress(in this case supposedly Gomesi) for dinner, I think this is just a matter of personal choice. Do I think that national dress should be encouraged? Yes, but it still remains a personal choice. Every body goes for dinner for different reasons and therefore telling people to put on traditionally or nationally may make some people miss out on their reasons for the dinner.

In Islam, we encourage women to dress in Hijjabu whatever the reasons for the dinner and probably this should be encouraged by all Muslim parents. Hijjabu refers to traditional Islamic dress, intended to encourage modesty, in which women often cover everything but the hands and face.

Gomesi is the de facto national dress of Uganda just like Luganda is the de facto national language. So it’s upon Ugandans to promote the national dress code or Gomesi in the fashion industry and to call upon their government to subsidize such products. Ugandans abroad can try to dress traditionally on their important occasions if possible.

The Kingdom of Swaziland today is composed of a homogeneous population who share language, culture and loyalty to their King and country. There are no tribal conflicts; the country is stable, orderly and at peace with her neighbors. Perhaps Swaziland’s greatest asset is her people, who are always happy, friendly, courteous and willing to assist visitors to their Kingdom. Swaziland has got a distinctive national dress which is regularly worn by men, women, and children in urban as well as rural areas. Probably, it makes sense if we also develop a few bits ourselves like: national language, national dress, national holidays like ‘Uganda day’,……… to somehow make us all feel like Ugandans. Honestly, why are we fighting over small things like national dressing and national language?

‘Busuti ‘or ‘kawunda’ (like those ones put on by some Makerere University lecturers and late Julius Nyerere of Tnaznia), or suits, have come to be accepted as official dressings in Uganda or East Africa. This is no surprise considering that English is already our official language. This explains why Kabaka Mutebi sometimes puts on suits on official businesses. On the other hand, Sabasajja normally puts on ‘eKanzu’ and ‘koti’ while on national or traditional businesses.

In England where I live, female Members of the Royal Family normally go for special clothes, hats or gloves. There is no requirement on the side of the general public for hats to be worn, though it is entirely acceptable to do so. Hats are not normally worn at functions after 6:30 p.m. Secondly, There is no requirement for gloves to be worn. However, if a woman wishes to wear gloves, they need not be white but should not be taken off before the wearer is presented.

Byebyo ebyange

Abbey.K.Semuwemba

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joseph Kamugisha
    Jan 05, 2010 @ 00:01:47

    “E’kanzu” is an improved garment of the Arabic outfit. The difference between the two are the additional attachments of the “Muleera” at the centre of the bottom part of the Kanzu and the fact that the actual Kanzu is supposed to be entrirely hand made as opposed to the Arabic garment which is machine tailored.

    Otherwise, “E’Kanzu” was NEVER a Kiganda garment until the Arabs first sgowed up in Buganda. As for the “Gomesi” that was an invasion of a Goan tailor, whose name was “Gomez” from which the name “Gomesi” is derived.

    But again, that attire has other names such as “Busuuti” and “Boardingi”. The name “Boardingi”, i’m told came as a result of the fact that the “Gomesi’s” were Gayaza High School’s first school uniform, and because it was a “boarding school”, the Busuuti was dubed, “Boardingi” after the school’s set up.

    Kamugisha

  2. Ssenkumba JACOB
    Jan 09, 2010 @ 15:16:22

    [IN RESPONSE TO Kamugisha, ESP FROM 2ND PARAGRAPH]

    So what is kamugisha’s point? The letters used to write English are also known as roman characters because of their history with Rome and of course ancient Greek which brought them to be what they are today. But that does not make English be called Latin nor Ancient Greek.

    The Gomesi and Kanzu too have history which finally makes them Buganda’s attire or Uganda’s at large.*(concerned with the faith behind “NEVER” in the 2nd paragraph)

    Though there are some purely Buganda discoveries such as The LUBUGO and the like, trust me, they are a source of pride to all right thinking Ugandans.

  3. Essie
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 00:19:16

    so where exactly can i get myself one of these gorgeous outfits… GOMESI… coz i desperately need one… have failed yet to find a shop in london. Please help.

  4. Twakoowa
    Feb 06, 2010 @ 12:01:01

    The boarding and the kanzu were not made according to the Arab or by the Goan as many non Baganda who love to twist Buganda history say. It is a busy body, a rumour-monger, a person addicted to gossip and with a yearn for loneliness who goes about pretending to know and tell other people’s past. Non Baganda Ugandans have to learn to speak for themselves and about themselves.

    The boarding, traditional dress of the Baganda is basically a Baganda dress from time immemorial. Only the sleeves were added to it, and the idea was taken from the dresses of the whites. And so is the Kanzu, the male Baganda traditional dress. The boarding was first taiolered by the student at Gayaza boarding School, for the short version of the girls uniform. many Baganda schools adopted this fashion, and soon after the grown up women added the sleeves on their long dress too. Up to date, these Baganda boarding schools still wear that uniform of old. The uniform was called boarding, but when the adults adopted the sleeves the dress was named busuuti or kade. Gomezi was just a toiler who used to sew clothes for high class women, and many used him to make their busuuti for them. Many Baganda call their busuuti after the tailora name or the material. That’s how Gomezi came into the equation. And by the way, the sleeves were like sticking the akakaaya onto the strapless dress. Elders, leaders and even the young on important occassions wore their traditional male outfit wiht a robe, called ejjoba, sometimes wrapped below the arms. This was the idea of adding long sleeves to make the Kanzu. that’s how it was and is, no amount of lies and malice can change the history. For anyone who thinks th Baganda are better than they are,m go find someting positive in your own past, instead of trying to deman other people. Because it’s not working.

  5. celine olaktar
    Feb 08, 2010 @ 11:09:46

    Am having my wedding in April and I desparetely want my female guests to wear gomesi pliz can i make orders—from where? am in nbi kenya.

  6. Otto Patrick
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:17:43

    Gomesi as a national dress: how national, how dressy, which nation?

    1/8Gomesi started being with us in 1940s when it was adapted as the dress for boarding schools in Uganda, starting with Gayaza. Gayaza, as we know was founded by Christian missionaries ‘…to train girls especially the daughters of chiefs in those skills that would make them better wives’.

    2/8Initially, the ladies of the school donned the basic Kiganda ladies’ attire of the day: a sheet of cotton cloth wrapped around the breasts and tied to the waist with a smaller strip of cloth. This left much of the torso exposed and there were often some accidents with that attire especially when the ladies went to work in the school shambas. The missionary tutors found the exposure of the ladies’ torsos and breasts indecent and sought to craft a dress code that was a compromise of their own fashions and the bed sheet-like sash with which the ‘natives’ draped themselves (see attached picture, from Speke’s journal of the ‘discovery’ of the Nile).

    3/8They enlisted the services of a tailor from Gayaza trading centre, an Indian called Fernando Gomes. Mr Gomes was from Goa , an Indian province formally under the Portuguese. The people there like Mr Gomes and the Pintos, Almeidas etc adopted Portuguese names.

    4/8In designing the new Gayaza uniform, Mr Gomes maintained the extravagant sash, very much like the oriental Kimono or West African Obi that was to form a massive skirt. On to this, he stitched a quasi blouse with a square neck with two buttons opening on the left. The new dress was named after him, hence, gomesi. This became the first uniform for all girls in boarding schools (hence ‘boodingi’) and when they went back home for holidays, the traditional authorities were impressed by the new fashion, turning it into the ‘traditional’ dress.

    5/8Mr Gomes was later to be evicted from Gayaza by the Anti-Asian rioters in the late 1940s. A fifth generation Indian Raj Vajrakaya Gomez has recently come up to claim that he is a grandchild of Gomes and wants the ‘bodingi’ to be patented to benefit the family of its designer. His claim can however be doubted because his name, Gomez is Spanish where as the Portuguese version given to the Goans has a letter‘s’.

    6/8The gomesi dress symbolises the ostentation and conspicuous display and extravagancy of feudal society where value for money is an alien concept. From one gomesi, a contemporary designer can make at least 3 size 12 ladies’ dresses….let alone the ‘Kikoyi’, and ‘Kitambala’ that accompany that courtly attire.

    7/8The gomesi can only be a ‘national dress’ (hopefully for ladies only) if the nation’s life is going to be confined to the slothfulness, lethargy, flamboyance, splendour and vanity of the feudal court. An active, productive, non-parasitic, bi-cycle riding, boda-boda mobile female population cannot manage in that cumbersome garb. A mukiga lady will not wear it, and never wears it, and in much of the West, the less cumbersome two-piece dress and sheet remains popular: it makes it easy to shed off the sheet, which for the gomesi, is the entire garb.

    8/8To think that ‘Gomesi’ is a traditional dress is a bit problematic when we do not even have a vernacular name for it and at the very moment when some of us are agitating for a ‘national’ language. Looking at the name Gomes itself, its Portuguese origin makes the naming of the attire for our women even more problematic. Gomes or Gomez in Spanish derives from ‘Guma’ meaning a man or male, or masculine….i.e., Mwami/Ejakait/Ladit. A name that refers to masculinity, for a dress that embodies femininity is a comical contradiction in terms!

    L/Cpl(rtd) Otto Patrick
    UAH FORUMIST
    LONDON

  7. Muwanga
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:19:30

    1/4.. I as in Bwijanga and in Biiso a few times and I saw many respected “Banyorokati” [Banyoro ladies] donning the “Gomesi”. I saw the same on a public occasion at Kiryandongo Hospital , and later at Katulikire as had earlier been the case at Bweyale trading centre.

    2/4I went to Acholiland and at a meeting at Lachekocot [a kilometre from Achwa river bridge, towards Kitgum, before Atanga division (County) Hqrts] and the Mothers’ Union ladies at the Church were all in white ‘gomeses’ with blue ‘saches’.

    Lesson: The “Gomes” is popular with the ‘users’ or Customers and it is winning the ‘ladies fashion battle’ in our country, whether we argue for or against it on this forum’s pages. You won’t, of course find a lady in a ‘gomes’ at Pearl Afrique Hotel near Pece in Gulu nor in the lobby of Masindi Hotel or that of Korping Hotel (in Masindi too) – but how many go there?

    3/4. So, again “Sir” , you are adopting an ‘extreme’ statement here: “blasphemy”, as though fashion, in your ayes at least, is a ‘cultural religion’!! This way, are we not headed for trouble with fashion extremism?

    4/4. God forbid.

    Christopher Muwanga,
    Nakasero,
    Kampala.

  8. Muwanga
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:20:25

    “Von” Otto PATRICK.

    1/2.Gayaza high school was founded in 1905 and surely the GOMESI should have come a few years after that. The 40’a re too far.

    2/2.On foregn names/naming: There is nothing strange on this. All living languages evolve/ borrow new words and shed old ones. So, whether the name of the national costume has foregn origins should not surely matter. What is important is that it should be unique and widely accepted by the citizens.

    Christopher Muwanga, Nakasero,
    Kampala.

  9. Otto Patrick
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:22:06

    Mr Muwanga,

    1/6 I am aware that gayaza was founded in 1905, with a student population of 4 girls….and that has nothing to do with when the gomesi was instituted as the school uniform. I almost thought I had instead stated the year as 1840!

    2/6 On foreign names, the point I wanted to emphasize implicitly is that, when we appropriate other peoples’ language codes to improve our ability to communicate to wider audiences, we need to admit that, there and then, we are transcending the ‘local’ and the ‘national’ etc.

    3/6 Scrouging for national symbols in the era of globalisation is futile. When others are being globalised, you will instead be ‘gobblised’. For some of us, even pan-Ugandanism is still difficult to comprehend as you know.

    4/6 Just as an example look at this Luganda (?) statement:
    ‘Genda kulubaraza oleete zinzimiya yange ne jambiya. Biteeke kumeeza n’ekalaamu byombi n’ekitabu, kumpi na pakiti y’emicunguwa n’entagawuzi. Ekalaamu eri mukooti’.
    (Go to the veranda and fetch my water bottle and machete. Place them on the table, close to the book and pencil, near the packet with oranges and ginger. The pencil is in the jacket’)

    5/6 Let us deconstruct it and see how much Luganda there is there in the ‘Luganda’ statement:

    > Lubaraza…..Arabic
    > Zinzimiya…..Arabic
    > Jambiya…..Arabic
    > Meeza…….Portuguese
    > Kalaamu…Arabic
    > Kitabu…….Arabic
    > Pakiti……..Indo-germanic/English
    > micunguwa….Mandarin/Chinese…..Chung Hua is the ethnic name of the Hans
    > Tangawuzi…..Tang Huz….South Korean
    > Kooti………Indo-Germanic
    > Veranda….from India

    6/6 Now, tell me about “national language”….I will say it is global!

    L/Cl (rtd) Otto Patrick
    LONDON

  10. Peter Okello
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 16:09:53

    Dear All,

    May I just add another dimension – a small dimension – to the Gomesi debate. Indeed the Gomesi as we know it today was the standard dress for Gayaza Girls High School. In fact in the villages because of its being worn by ‘borders’ as the bording students were called – it was initially called ‘bording’. This name still persist although Gomesi is the now the dominant name.

    Indeed the first tailor to make them in Uganda was a Goan (indian) called Gomes – hence the name Gomesi – a corruption of the word Gomes!

    What I want to added to this debate after doing thorough research – as I always do – is that it appears that Gomes was himself not the original designer of the Gomesi fashion. I have learnt that the fashion orignated or orignates from Philipines and Gomes simply imported it to Uganda.

    That is why those of you – who are as observant as me – could not have failed to notice that the dresses the Philipines President Glorio Arroyo wears are Gomesis! You could also refer to Quarazon Aquino’s dresses and those of Imelda Marcos. All are Gomesis especially the top/shoulder design.

    Now at least you know where the Gomesi orignated!!!

    Regarding whether a Gomesi is national dress or not, I will weight into that debate with a last word later. It could however also be the a national dress for Philipines.

    Peter Okello

  11. Akudit
    Mar 02, 2010 @ 12:27:22

    so where exactly can i get myself one of these gorgeous outfits… GOMESI… coz i desperately need one for a function in April… have failed yet to find a shop in Nairobi-Kenya. Please help

  12. Twakoowa
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 02:48:46

    I volunteer to write this again, because unlike anyone else here, it was narrated to me by someone who knows it first hand. Not a Northerner like most of the folks here are, some pretending to be Baganda so they can confuse people. For whatever anyone wants to says, this is Buganda’s history. Anyone who claims to know it better than the Baganda do is a busybody, most probably coming from a region where people were going naked by the time the Busuuti was created and speaks out of envy and malice. I for one can’t claim , not to mention argue with an English person about their dress history. Non Baganda Ugandans need to go get a life and stop crawling about under the Baganda’s shadow. We are relly tired of your mingling in our business.

    Some people need to always read and hear twice to get the message-;
    The boarding and the kanzu were not made according to the Arab or by the Goan as many non Baganda who love to twist Buganda history say. It is a busy body, a rumour-monger, a person addicted to gossip and with a yearn for loneliness who goes about pretending to know and tell other people’s past. Non Baganda Ugandans have to learn to speak for themselves and about themselves.

    The boarding, traditional dress of the Baganda is basically a Baganda dress from time immemorial. Only the sleeves were added to it, and the idea was taken from the dresses of the whites. And so is the Kanzu, the male Baganda traditional dress. The boarding was first taiolered by the student at Gayaza boarding School, for the short version of the girls uniform. many Baganda schools adopted this fashion, and soon after the grown up women added the sleeves on their long dress too. Up to date, these Baganda boarding schools still wear that uniform of old. The uniform was called boarding, but when the adults adopted the sleeves the dress was named busuuti or kade. Gomezi was just a toiler who used to sew clothes for high class women, and many used him to make their busuuti for them. Many Baganda call their busuuti after the tailora name or the material. That’s how Gomezi came into the equation. And by the way, the sleeves were like sticking the akakaaya onto the strapless dress. Elders, leaders and even the young on important occassions wore their traditional male outfit wiht a robe, called ejjoba, sometimes wrapped below the arms. This was the idea of adding long sleeves to make the Kanzu. that’s how it was and is, no amount of lies and malice can change the history. For anyone who thinks th Baganda are better than they are,m go find someting positive in your own past, instead of trying to deman other people. Because it’s not working.

  13. Twakoowa
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 03:15:41

    Boarding was short for boarding uniform. It was the same fashion but different colours for different schools in Buganda. In most day schools, girls wore two piece uniforms, like boys. In the old times, the size of the material with which the busuuti was tied depended on the ocassion and class of the woman. As did the robes that were worn over what now we in Buganda call a kanzu (Omugunda). Other names the busuuti has been called apart from Gomesi; Nylon, mafuta, kitengi, nytil, kapere etc…The only sad thing for non Baganda and their endless struggle to twist Buganda’s history, you may fabricate all the lies you want, but the truth will always remain. And always remember, the devil tried before you to fight the truth and is still failing daily.

    Now instead of everyone going on about how the kade became a boarding let everyone just come on and tell us about what went on in their own area. There must be something interesting, something worth mentioning going on there then too!

  14. charles nkuubi
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 08:51:40

    i have been reading thru your posts on your website and i want to tell you man, you are doing a great job and all your info is enriching. am one of those guys who did not treasure our traditional dress [gomasi] but from today on wards i will tell my wife to always put on that on big ocassions because it looked so terrific and beatiful looking at women in gomasi [dress] that is not found anywhere but only and only uganda and started by the great people called Bganda. I feel so proud, your work has made me feel proud for the first time about my ……………..should i say uganda? but corruption… i hate to say i love uganda…..let leaders fight it if they dont wand to beed it more!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. tara
    Jun 10, 2011 @ 06:24:35

    were is the defenitoin of the dress !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:(:(:(

  16. Vahid
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 14:41:39

    I’ve lived in DR Congo for five years and discovered that DRC has four national languages; Swahili, Lingala, Kikongo and Tshiluba. Despite presence of several other dialects Congolese adhere to these national languages dependent on which region you’re in.

    When I was growing up it was depicted that we too had four national languages (whether official or not isn’t important); Luganda; Runyoro-Rutoro-Runyankole-Rukiga, Luo and Ateso. These were depicted in the manner the national broadcaster run its programmes.

    I feel Uganda could still go this way because it’s difficult for an Acholi to adapt to Luganda or Runyakole, etc. While regions such as Busoga and Bugisu easily use Luganda and could continue doing so.

    Our country is a blend of beautiful diversity, we should then use this diversity to build a unity that does not create dissent.

  17. Ronald Mutebi Lukanga
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:08:32

    I have read & understood you guys but the issue of National language is vital for us all pan- ugandan need to adress. Yes uganda has four National languages i.e Luganda, Runyoro-Rutoro-runyakita -lukiga, luo & acholi as we all contend but off the four which one has been widely spoken/used and why? Forexample Uganda’s madia houses all communicate in Luganda & English, out of the 80 fm radio stations in the country to day, 60 use luganda to attain market & i keep on woundering why? Many hate luganda for reason best known for themselves luganda would depict the true Ugandanism abroad

  18. Ahmed Kateregga Musaazi
    Jul 25, 2012 @ 13:11:19

    Forumists, to borrow from ex Premiere Kintu Musoke, Luganda is the defacto national language, busuuti and gomesi defacto national dress, and matooke, defacto national food.

    other than “kabba) which covers the shoulders, the gomesi or booding, was the traditional dress of Baganda before the coming of Europeans.
    Asians added on kitambi, kitambaala and kabba. The traditional kitambi and kitambaala were all made of bark cloth.
    l don;’t think that Gomesi was adopted in fourties. It was much earlier.
    The gomes as we know it, is now the national dress for Buganda, eastern, northern, Bunyoro and Rwenzoori in Midwestern other than Tooro, Ankole and Kigezi.
    Then the kanzu covers the entire country.

  19. Henry Ford Miirima
    Jul 25, 2012 @ 14:08:26

    Abebitiinisa Abbey Ssemuwemba and Ka Sulex;

    You are misleading people. What is the Kiganda dress? Is the kanzu a
    kiganda dress? Who told you that Luganda is the national language of
    Uganda? However, its good you don’t agree with that girl in BBA who
    last week said kityibwa kya Buganda is the national anthem of Uganda.

    If you think the kanzu is a Kiganda dress you are mistaken. The kanzu
    was introduced by the Arabs in Bunyoro-Kitara much earlier than it was
    introduced in Buganda.

    King Kabaleega was trading with the Arabs and he was very fluent in
    Arabic because of the prosperous trade between Banyoro and the Arabs.
    The trade caravans in East Africa were originating in Bunyoro-Kitara
    and going via Tanganyika ending up at the coast.

    It was at this time Arabs and Banyoro began wearing the same dress,
    the kanzu the kanzu. Today Banyoro wear the kanzu as a national dress.
    Baganda copied this dress from Banyoro much later on.

    Today Banyoro wear the kanzu, not as an imitation to Kiganda dress,
    but as our own cultural dress.

    The busuuti is the only specific kiganda dress. And for your
    information it is today dying a natural death. The non-Baganda who had
    been mislead and misguided to use it as a national dress have realised
    their mistake. They are no longer wearing it.

    As for my brother Abbey saying Luganda is the national language, you
    should be clearly informed that UGANDA DOES NOT HAVE A NATIONAL
    LANGUAGE. We have an official language and that is English.

    Every Ugandan’s mother tongue is his/her national language. That is
    why the Ministry of Education in 2000 introduced a policy of using
    mother tongue from nursery up to Primary three and thereafter studying
    it as a subject. Abbey, you cannot change this policy by your mere
    saying Luganda is the national language of Uganda.

    This was a recommendation by the Sentenza-Kajubi Commission of Enquiry
    of 1958. The recommendation was accepted by the Uganda Government only
    that the Ministry is slow in implementing it.

    However, today the Ministry has moved to strengthen that policy by at
    long last operationalising District Language Boards who have the
    responsibility of selecting and determining the local Languages of
    those districts.

    Henry Ford Miirima

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Semuwemba is a Ugandan residing in the UK

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"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. "~ Martin Luther King Jr. ~

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