Photo Courtesy: lifeinmombasa.com
There is a lot of mystery behind the buibui and the ones who don’t wear it probably wonder how the Muslim women survive under those ‘heavy blankets’ as some would get sarcastic about. The buibui has been worn in the coast and around the world since time immemorial and many view it as Islamic attire.
The buibui is presumed or rather believed to be a traditional dressing by the Arab tribes and when they came to spread their religion of Islam in the Coast of Kenya, people quickly adapted to their traditions and assumed the buibui to be part of religion, which is actually not true. The Islamic religion required a woman to wear a loose fitting and non conspicuous attire in which the Arabs then, believed that the buibui was the best suiting the characteristics of the attires required. A young girl would be introduced into wearing the buibui as soon as she reached the puberty age or even earlier so that she may adapt to the culture.
The old buibui which was worn by our ancestors was the very simple one, with no shiny or beautification on it at all and the only colour used was black. The buibui itself was made of three pieces of black fabric; the lower piece that is attached to another upper piece. However, these two pieces were only attached at the back; leaving the lower piece hanging loose at the front and thus, the women then, had to hold the piece while walking. The third piece was a light fabric that looks like a veil that is attached to the upper fabric at the head. The main upper fabric had ties for tying under the chin. When one wears the main upper and lower fabrics attached only, some part of the front hair remained exposed by this. Therefore, the third light piece becomes handy. This light material had two purposes; one, the woman could pull it forward to cover the hair that is exposed and bring it down to the chin and tuck it in around the cheeks. The lady would then use the main upper fabric that is still loose to make the ‘kizoro’ which is to pull the loose piece across her chest and face, which leaves only the eyes section uncovered. Two, the woman could let the light veil fall over her face and thus covering herself completely. The piece of material however, is light enough to allow her see through though the person seeing her may not be able to clearly make out her face. It is very rare to find anyone with such a buibui nowadays with an exception of our grandmothers’ maybe or the very traditional people remaining probably in Lamu county or Zanzibar in Tanzania.
Soon afterwards, new styles of buibui came up. The open abaya at the front which could expose the dress one is wearing inside, the ones which had simple design of flowers at the end of the arm, to the buibui coats which came in various colours before they disappeared for quite a while and are now back once again. The coats look more official like and the difference between the ones that were there long time ago is that they were not body fitting like the present ones. Afterwards, came the very conspicuous buibui which have all kind of designs all over it. Slowly by slowly, the buibui evolved to be a fashion thing rather than tradition or religion.
It is believed that there are various reasons as to why Muslim women wear buibui. The first is as Islamic attire in which, the buibui is perceived as a symbol of respect, honour and dignity. The buibui is worn so that the woman may cover all her beauty and only expose it to direct family and husband. The old women would often say, ‘buibui ni stara’ to show its actual essence of it being a cover.
The old women who we probably call the grand mothers and great grand mothers of our time know of the buibui as a tradition and you may come across pagans or non practicing Muslims who still wear the buibui. This is because many have grown up seeing our parents, relatives, neighbours wearing it and we grew up believing like the buibui is the main attire and symbol of the coast region, which is actually true.
The current generation has given a priority to fashion and all what it entails. Since the old buibui seemed too simple and unattractive to the youth of today, business personnel had no option but to make something trendy to suit their tastes. It is then that new buibui styles of all kind evolved; from the very colourful ones, to the transparent ones, to the body fitting, to the official coat buibui and much more. The Muslim clerics would not differ with me when I say that the buibui has actually lost its essence and is now taken lightly not as of before. Even the loose women use it to cover themselves while doing their dirty businesses. The current buibui is very conspicuous, shiny with much to which a man would fancy about. It is tight and has become more of fashion attire rather than a cover as previously perceived.
With all this, there are some women who still uphold the buibui with dignity and treat it like the symbol of respect it is. The buibui though, is not only found in the coast of Kenya but all over the nation too. Without being bias, we all will admit that the Somali community makes the best use of buibui of being a cover more than any other community. You would always see majority of them with the buibui and jalbab and they very well portray the ‘true Muslim woman’ image. Still, we can’t completely blame fashion for straying away the purpose of the buibui since there have come new styles like the abayatul ra’s which allows a woman ton cover herself from head to toe very well.Now this can be hilarious but some people believe that the buibui is worn due to laziness of wearing smartly and being neat? This sounds so absurd but some people can even confess that since they wear the buibui, they tend to get lazy to wear something smart and instead go for simple clothes like the dera or such. If that same person were to walk out of the house without a buibui, she would definitely wear something totally different. Some may even go to events like weddings with very simple attires inside but with no worry since they know that the buibui is good enough and will not expose the inner dress. Those who fall under this category know themselves but then, it is obvious that that isn’t the main essence of wearing a buibui.
However you may take the buibui, let us not forget that its main purpose was to be a symbol of dignity and honour rather than fashion or beautification. As for those who feel pity on how much women in buibui suffocate, you shouldn’t worry…the buibui is our lifestyle that we are proud of!