When one strolls around Mzuri Kaja village, particularly in
evenings, sights of men designing caps and women
embroidering them are a familiar feature. The cap-making
art here is as old as the village itself.



People from far places go to the village to buy ‘made-in-Mzuri’ caps called  "kofia ya viua” or

just “kofia” in Kiswahili. Among the enthusiasts of Mzuri Kaja caps are former Isles president

, the late H. E Idriss Abdul Wakil and the former president of Tanzania H. E. Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

It is an undeniable fact that when it comes to cap-making art in Zanzibar, Mzuri Kaja has no

known rival.

The 'kofia' is round-shaped with a flat cap and is adoned with embroidered designs all over. 

For convenience of simplicity in classification, 'kofias' are divided into two main groups,

simple-designed and complex-designes caps.  A Zanzibari man without possesing one

or more 'kofias' is unthinkable as it reflects his socio-religious status.  Clothing like 'kanzu'

(a white rob worn by muslims) or 'kanzu' with a coat are said to go well with it.



‘Kofias’ are produced in a myriad of designs drawn from the surroundings, making cap

designing art a true representation of the life of the people. The ‘kofia’ called “kikuti”

(palm leaf in Kiswahili) represents the presence of countless coconut trees in the Isles.

Fishing, a bread earning activity to many Islanders, is represented by a design called

“kidema”, a local word for a locally made traditional fish trap. The more elaborate a kofia

is designed, the higher a price it will fetch in the market. ‘Lozi’ falls in this category. It is

often preferred as a bridegroom’s attire. 

The fact that wearing a headgear is ‘sunnah’, (a commendable but not absolutely binding

deed in Islam) has lead to the popularization of the ‘kofia’ in the Isles, where the majority

of the people are Muslims. In fact, wherever populations of Muslims are found in East

and Central Africa, the ‘kofia’ has become popular attire. It is no surprise, therefore, that

the ‘kofia’ stands today for both Muslim and Swahili identities. The removal of one’s ‘kofia

is viewed as a mark of disrespect. And if you slant your ‘kofia’ on the head in a certain

way (‘kutegua’ in Kiswahili) it indicates that you look down on people.


Different people have different motives for putting on a ‘kofia’. There are those who feel

uneasy going out bare-headed. They regard themselves to have not fully dressed without

a ‘kofia’. Some feel shy to expose their bald heads or grey hair. Others feel that old age binds

them to wearing a ‘kofia’ or else they might be accused of clinging to youthfulness, if they do

not wear the cap! Likewise, some young people object wearing the caps on the pretext of

looking like old people. Nevertheless, the majority of people wear the caps because

they are regarded as decent clothing with an additional  religious significance.

 Among the special gifts bestowed to state guests visiting the Isles of Zanzibar is a ‘kofia’.

Many guests have enjoyed this hospitability, including the former president of South Africa,

Nelson Mandela (Madiba) when he visited the Island in 1990. His cap was designed and embroidered in Mzuri Kaja. The first Tanzanian president, the late Julius Nyerere, was a

great lover of the ‘kofia’. In the 1960s and 1970s he was hardly seen bareheaded in public

meetings or other state functions held in Swahili areas. 

One indisputable fact about the kofia is that a non-Swahili who frequently wears a kofia has

a greater chance to be easily integrated into the Swahili community. Don’t leave

Mzuri Kaja without one. 

For mail orders, contact MKDS Coordinator: 


Click arrow for a longer article on 'Kofia'