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In Photos: Stunning Portraits of Zanzibaris Donning the Classic Kofia

An intimate look at the brimless hat that makes Zanzibari men and boys look effortlessly hip and cool in photos.

OkayAfrica caught up with award-winning documentary photographer, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, of bi-annual journal Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora, who recently worked on projects in Zanzibar, Tanzania. While taking the beautiful enclave of a city in, Barrayn was captivated by the kofia—a brimless hat you'll often see worn by boys and men all along the Swahili coast—and had to capture them portrait style.

"Even though I don't consider myself a fashionista, I'm Muslim and I've always been tuned into how modesty and fashion play out in Islam and also how it varies from community to community. Also, I travel a lot so I always pay attention what the local or regional Islamic fashions are in that area or country," Barrayn says, explaining what drew her to photograph portraits featuring the kofia.

"I've spent a lot of time in West Africa working on photo projects so, I've gotten used to the knit cotton kufis. It's the one that was made popular by the independence activist, Amílcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau back in the 60s. I've also seen a lot of the varied styles of kufis in Nigeria. But when I was on Unguja Island in Zanzibar, I really fell in love with the colors and the way the men would fold or shape their kofia. I loved that the kofia was worn with the kanzus (the long flowing robes) to sportswear, jeans and other casual dress. It just fit and was so decidedly Zanzibari."

She continues:

"It's really interesting because all over the Swahili coast, the kofia is worn, and that is because that region was once part of the Omani empire until the Zanzibari Revolution of 1964. In fact, in Oman, you can still see the colorful Swahili influence in the clothing and headgear, like the kofia, for instance."

Barrayn also notes how much the kofia was a touch of style that made a whole look much more elegant and can pull an entire look together. With her photo essay below, she hopes to tell a fashion story about Muslim men that showcases an elegance in their style through this particular headdress. "I also want to show one of the many variations of culture-based style in the Islamic world," she adds.

Take a look at these stunning portraits featuring the kofia below.


Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn.

This photo essay was supported by the African Great Lakes Reporting Fellowship with the International Women's Media Foundation.

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