Legacy and tradition runs deep into many things we see repurposed and revived today. Fashion and accessories are no longer sought after for mere convenience but are distinctly hand-picked for reasons beyond the dollar amount. Rich materials, a sincere connection, and transparent sourcing from environments are in-demand more than ever. Designers from around the world see this shift but African designers have supplied this demand for centuries with one prime source in particular, Ankole Cow Horn.
Originally used for milk, meat, and skin hides, Ankole cows for a long time, have been traditionally valued in Africa as sustenance, ceremonial, and as symbols of wealth and power. Ownership of cattle showed one’s position in society, and the beauty of one’s heard, especially the shape and size of the horns, was valued even more significantly. For centuries the Ankole has been at the center of nomadic African tribe’s lives. The Tutsi, Ankole, Bahima, Bashi, Bakiga, and Kivu people have all relied on their cattle to provide food, currency, and social status. It profoundly established a connection of culture and identity within the communities.
Pure breed and native cattle to East Africa, the Ankole Cow (also known as the Ankole Longhorn) can weigh up to 1,600 pounds. Its large distinctive horns can reach up to 8ft. tall. The Ankole is a sturdy breed, which has acclimated overtime to the harsh conditions of East Africa. It can survive for long amounts of time without water and is accustomed to walking long distances alongside its traditional nomadic keepers. Herders that with time grew close with their cattle and became their protectors and even admirers.
What makes these Ankole cow horns so special?
Featuring a large base and great length, the Ankole crescent lyre shaped horns are the most desired in Africa. Ankole-Watusi in Rwanda, where the Tutsi ruled, the cattle were known as Insanga, “the ones which were found” and Inyambo, “the cow with long, long horns”. Those with the largest and longest horns belonged to the king and were considered sacred, coining the term “Cattle of Kings”.
Sold as an after-market product, the horns are durable and rich in quality. The aesthetic is unique in every way. No two horns are ever the same. Colors and textures run rapid from light, ivory coloration to exotic solid spots and stripes in browns, greys, and blacks. African artisans seek special bone apprenticeships just to learn how to shape, carve, cut, and drill Ankole horn. It is truly a material of value that surpasses all others.
Intentionally uniting style and substance, Adele Dejak’s collections express a vital appreciation for African-made products. With a focus on using recycled materials and a commitment to exceptional quality, her pieces like the Maasai Inspired Charm Bracelet are made with Ankole horn. Employing some of the most talented artisans in the East African region, the designer not only contributes to the value of Ankole horn, but to her very own community’s economic progression.
As times have shifted into the present, shopping is no longer just a pass time. It has cultivated into something that is thoroughly thought out with intention. Sources of materials are important and need to geographically make sense and connect. Where does your clothing come from? Who it is benefiting?