Margi AttirePhotographs of women with bare breasts may make some viewers uncomfortable, including Africans who have accepted the values of Christianity or Islam. I urge all viewers to accept these people for what they were; kind and decent people, as good and moral as any humans I have ever known. Judge them by their characters not the imposed values of latter day arbiters.
In 1959-60 Margi women wore as their standard garment a goat skin fringe called dzar with a cloth covering their buttocks called gumbara. The latter by tradition was made of alternating strips of blue and white cotton, but among older women any piece of cloth that caught their fancy was substituted. This woman was typical of a young mother with one exception to be noted below. Unmarried women dressed more elaborately and faddishly, as will be seen in a later photograph of Nggeramu dancing after a beer market wherein she wears numerous plastic ornaments that were the fad of that year.
The traditional apparel of men was the ram skin pizhi, worn here by Makarama Thlama. Outside his compound he would have worn a loose fitting indigo blue gown over the pizhi. However, even by 1959 it was clear that the pizhi was a thing of the past. Young men rarely wore them except on ceremonial occasions, when they were obligatory, and with each returning visit pizhis were rarer.
It is, however, difficult to speak of "traditional" Margi attire, because their society has been so dynamic that there is no bench mark. When I spoke to older women about dzar they told me that in their youth it had been entirely different, and during our 1959-60 field work several of the young women affected different fashions. It is not surprising then that with encroaching modernity everything changed. In 1987 one only saw dzar and bare breasts in remote hamlets, and I saw no men wearing pizhi. When men dressed for an occasion, the style was the generic robes of Northern Nigerian Muslims, but most often both men and women wore a mix and match of used garments of western manufacture.
Finally, it is necessary to say a word about the unusual red coloring of Margi mothers in many of the following pictures. When a child was born and first shown in public, traditionally the mother and child were covered with a mixture of oil and red ochre called yinsidu. In some instances, however, a mother who had had several miscarriages or some similar misfortune may have wished to break that sequence, and she would not wear yinsidu. That is the case of the woman in the photograph above.