Muireann taking photos in Uganda


Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool


B l o g

Bump, Baby, Breastfeed! Part 2

20 Aug 2009

Clothes are a key part of culture and what a pregnant woman wears can tell you a lot about her society.

In Uganda, when a woman falls pregnant she keeps her little secret under wraps until the bump can no longer be hidden. Leaving aside a few close family members knowing, the pregnancy will go undetected. The people who know her best will suddenly notice the bump as if it has appeared out of thin air. This can be as late as seven or eight months into the pregnancy.

In Ireland, when a woman falls pregnant she is bursting to tell every single soul she knows though many will keep this agonising secret for as long as 13 weeks in case there is a miscarriage. When the time is right, the news ripples through the land.

Maternity wear in Dublin can now be found in the high street, exclusive boutiques and online thus catering for all women (at least in theory). Lean models with elegant bumps and glowing smiles adorn the back pages of fashion magazines. Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to be frumpy. The bumps are out there and proud!

However, I’ve yet to see a pregnant Ugandan showing off her bump in the way a European woman would. For the most part, when normal clothes or larger sizes can not accommodate the bumps, women wear cool African Kitengi smocks and loose clothing. When the mother is close to term even those begin to look a bit tighter but they aren’t overtly ‘revealing’.

It’s not that Ugandan women aren’t proud of their pregnancies because they are. In fact many will breathe as sigh of relief because fertility is king in society. No the bumps aren’t on display because of social norms about dress sense. As daughters, mothers and wives, women instinctively know what length of skirt and what kinds of shirts and tops to wear. From an early age women are taught how they should dress ‘properly’ or ‘smartly’ according to their tribal culture.

A small number of boutiques sprung up in 2007 and 2008 selling modern and expensive maternity wear to the fashionistas of Kampala. Vive La Revolution of the elasticated trousers and tops that could blend with an existing office wardrobe while holding in a bigger bosom. In order to survive in the East African market, the boutiques are not just blindly importing western maternity-wear show-all fashions. Instead they are carefully balancing western trends of colour and style with clever clothing that modestly cover the pregnant physique.

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