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Cotton cloths are a popular everyday item of clothing in Malawi and are produced in a wide variety of patterns and designs. They are also designed to mark social and political events, and are an important record of cultural history in Malawi.

Portrait cloths fact file



Made in

Blantyre, Malawi

Made by

David Whitehead & Son, Mapeto Factory

Made from


Made to

Commemorate a series of political events featuring the former President of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika

Museum reference

V.2012.67, V.2012.68, V.2012.70

Did you know?

National Museums Scotland has a range of Malawian commemorative cloths in its collection including a design produced in 2009 to mark 150 years since the founding of the Presbyterian Church in Blantyre by Dr David Livingstone.

Production and use

Most of this type of cotton cloth, known as chitenje, is manufactured locally at the David Whitehead & Son Mapeto factory, in Blantyre. The colourful cloth is usually sold in two metre lengths and either worn wrapped around the body or sewn into outfits, like blouses, skirts and headscarves. It is also commonly used as a carrier, often by mothers supporting babies across their backs.

Because the chitenje is used so widely in Malawi it is a useful vehicle for all kinds of promotion and advertising. The range of designs is constantly changing, and can include anything from the commemoration of annual events like Christmas, to cloths showing church membership.

Rolls of cloth David Whitehead & Son Mapeto factory

Rolls of cloth in the David Whitehead & Son Mapeto factory

Above: Two photographs of the rolls of fabric in the factory taken by curator Sarah Worden whilst working in Malawi in 2013. Both imported and locally grown, cotton has been an important commodity in Malawi for centuries.

The presidential campaign

Bingu wa Mutharika (1934-2012) was the President of Malawi from 2004 until his death in 2012. He began as a leader of the United Democratic Front, but in 2005 he formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Political campaign cloth for President President Bingu wa Mutharika

Above: Ears of corn are repeated across the cloth and are used as the DPP logo. An important staple crop, the ripe corn cobs are a symbol of growth and development in Malawi.

Becoming the Chairman

This cloth celebrates the appointment of President Bingu wa Mutharika as the Chairman of the African Union in 2010. The African Union is an organization that promotes the interaction and cooperation of the 54 nations of Africa. President Bingu wa Mutharika’s portrait, unchanged from the presidential campaign cloth, has been placed in the outline of the African continent.

Commemorative cloth for the African Union 2010-2011

Above: This cloth shown above incorporates the gold and green logo of the African Union within a design which suggests the dynamism and energy of a unified Africa.

Funeral commemorations

President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office in 2012, at the age of 78, leaving a controversial legacy following nationwide protests, shortages, rising prices and unemployment. Despite the unstable economy, over 50,000 metres of funeral cloth were distributed free to Malawians at a cost to the government of over $125,000.

Portrait cloth to commemorate President Bingu Wa Mutharika

Above: During his Presidency Bingu Mutharika controversially altered the Malawian national flag. To symbolise his impact on the development and growth in Malawi he changed the image of the rising sun to a full sun.

The cloth displayed does not in any way indicate political views of National Museums Scotland, and we intend to continue to collect cloth to represent all political parties in Malawi.

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