Search for #OwnYourCulture on Instagram and browse through the visual history of African ornaments

#OwnYourCulture is a social media movement that seeks to “decolonize fashion, one necklace at a time”. It showcases ‘traditional’ ornaments as fashionable pieces, in a bid to show the fashionable-ity  of traditional jewelry and reconnect to what fashion was and looked like in Africa before European colonization.

Wamboi Kay
The blogger Wamboi Kay for OwnYourCulture

Fashion consultant Chepkemboi Mang’ira of the blog MissVavavum launched #OwnYourCulture on Instagram  in 2015, asking users to style a traditional cultural piece with contemporary clothes.

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Chepkemboi Mang’ira

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Since then, the movement has built up a large audience, especially, among East Africans, gathering the contributions of over 1300 followers. Most of them sport headgear or neck-pieces, showcasing a variety of styles that reflect the diverse cultures of the continent.

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Winnie the Fashionista poses for OwnYourCulture

 

Wamboi Kay
The blogger Wamboi Kay poses for OwnYourCulture

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I came across Chepkemboi in May and we exchanged emails about the campaign. The Instagram feed is half fashion editorial, half visual ethnography, with users achieving different levels of compositional sophistication, while foregrounding the cultural and historical value of the ensembles. It is, in itself, a great resource to learn about East African jewelry, which in mainstream media is generally associated exclusively with Maasai cultural pieces.

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The blogger Nicole Ndutah poses for OwnYourCulture

 

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Contribution to #ownyourculture by @vannidiah
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Contribution by @sly_leshinka
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Contribution by @adeyde20

For example,  the campaign showcases ornaments of the Samburu, Kalenjin, Kamba and Luo communities in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, whose bead colors and combinations differentiate the various heritage traditions.

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Traditional Tanzanian necklace by @posh__designs

Indeed, in our conversation Chepkemboi stresses that #OwnYourCulture is about making cultural and ethnic pride relevant to social interaction. To the blogger, the campaign “restructures what fashion is to the African people. Besides the prints, our ornaments are timeless and equally spectacular.”

Elsewhere she adds: “Owning our stories, representing who we are in the media and reflecting our rich heritage and culture are the core fundamentals that #ownyourculture is built on.”

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Tanzanian jewels by @posh__designs
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Zulu beads by @thelazymakoti

 

Effectively, #OwnYourCulture singles out individual users and brings them together in a virtual community of style-conscious guardians of tradition. It is a branding mechanism that empowers Africans, allowing them to create visual stories that use ornaments to address relevant issues regarding heritage and African modernity.

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Contribution by @vuyiso_afrikanprincess

The campaign has grown immensely with more and more people from Africa wearing their ornaments with pride and boosting the creative economy in the process. #OwnYourCulture is now also on Facebook.

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