Videos of Pokot women and girls dancing to certain songs while donning a pleated, free-flowing skirt have flooded social media, with some viewers asking where they can get the unique attire.
To other people, the skirt is just like any other clothing, but to the Pokot community, the lorwa, as locals call it, is more significant – something they can identify with as their own.
Interestingly, the skirt is not sold anywhere outside major towns in West Pokot, including Sigor and Kapenguria.
According to Felisters Cheretei, from Sigor, there are tailors in West Pokot who specialise in making the skirts and people from other regions travel all the way there to buy them, because that is where the garments originated.
She said the skirt came to be when the Pokot embraced Western culture after independence and abandoned traditional hide coverings for modern clothes.
But even with the change, they still wanted to incorporate the significance, use, and reverence of traditional hide coverings in the new clothing.
“Modern clothes came in and the Pokot did not want their culture to be eroded, so they resorted to designing clothes that resembled their traditional garments,” Ms Cheretei said.
“They settled on the specific kaniki, a soft material that comes in different colours and suitable for the particular make.”
The garment, though it can be used for many other occasions, has been elevated to be worn in particular ceremonies, including child naming, weddings, initiation, dances such as the adong’oa, and sapana, the rite of passage where men graduate to maturity, earning the community’s respect and the right to marry.
“The lorwa is worn by all women and girls from the community, including West Pokot, Tiaty and all the way to Uganda and it is also accompanied by some beads that are different from those of other communities, specifically to promote our culture,” Ms Cheretei said.
“In the past, locals used to sew it by hand but with greater literacy, it is tailor-made nowadays, but that notwithstanding, it is yet to get to other markets in the country.”
The skirt, she said, is beloved for community dances as it can swing in any direction depending on the dance.
The attire, she said, is only worn when there are celebrations and not burials, because it is only meant for occasions when people are partying on good tidings and not mourning.
The kaniki material, said Lucy Chesang, became ideal for making the skirts because it was the first cloth seen in West Pokot before independence.
Modernity among the Pokot community, she said, first dawned in West Pokot, including schools, clothing and farming.
That is why the skirts are only found in the county and the Pokot who live in Tiaty, Baringo County, usually travel all the way to Kapenguria or Sigor to buy them in bulk, especially when there are ceremonies, said Ms Chesang, a tailor.
She said sales of the skirts boom during the holidays when there are different ceremonies, with one skirt retailing for Sh500 to Sh1,000 depending on the size.
“In a good season, I make more than Sh40,000 a month,” she said.
Lily Jepchumba, from Barpello in Tiaty sub-county, said people in the community previously used to don attire made of animal hide that was meant for specific occasions.
“When the hide garments were replaced by modern clothes, the lorwa skirt gained popularity in the community and it is virtually our formal dress code that we identify with,” she said.
“It is our brand, like the shuka for the Maasai, because when I put it on, people know I am a Pokot. I normally buy it in Kapenguria because it is not sold in markets in Tiaty.”
She added: “When you wear it during ceremonies or to meetings of women’s groups, you even gain respect from your peers because it has a great significance to us, our culture, our heritage.”
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