It is believed that the origins of the craft of making Lubugo and its use as a wearable material dates back to 600 AD with the women using it as a Ssuka that covered their bodies from the bodice down to calf level, and fastened around the waist with banana fiber or a strip of bark cloth.
– Research has revealed –
Before the coming of the Arabs to Uganda and later the Europeans, the people of Buganda had mastered the craft of producing a unique wearable material called Lubugo that was made from the bark of a local tropical tree called Mutuba (Ficus natalensis). It is believed that the origins of the craft of making Lubugo and its use as a wearable material dates back to 600 AD with the women using it as a Ssuka that covered their bodies from the bodice down to calf level, and fastened around the waist with banana fiber or a strip of bark cloth.
The Gomesi, has its origin from this Lubugo outfit which is the traditional attire of Baganda women in the Central region of Uganda. It is worn by the women and girls at formal occasions and as daily wear by the elderly and rural women.
The evolution of the Gomesi through the ages
The missionaries that came to Uganda and established Gayaza High School – the first all-girls boarding school, noticed that the Lubugo attire worn as school uniform required frequent adjusting and tightening by the girls.
It was between 1905 and 1908, that the then Head Mistress of Gayaza Junior School, Miss Alfreda Allen asked Mr. Anton Gloria Gomes, a Goan from the India, who was a tailor, to design a versatile Ssuka for the girls made from cotton.
This is the time when the colonialists had introduced the production of cotton, in their quest to not only export raw cotton but also to introduce the production of cotton fabric in Uganda. The Baganda with time replaced the Lubugo with cotton fabric for their garments.
It was Caetano Gomes, the younger brother of Anton Gloria Gomes who later in 1914 designed a yoke with a square neck for the Ssuka. The adjusted attire was named Gomesi after its designer ‘Gomes’ who went on to incorporate features of the Victorian and Edwardian era women’s outfits which included puffed sleeves and aspects of the female Indian attire – the ‘Sari’. A sash was added for the waist to “accentuate the feminine figure”.
Young women celebrating tradition through style by donning the gomesi at the Ekisaakaate kya Nnabagereka in 2020.
The attire gained popularity among the women after the Nnabagereka of Kabaka Daudi Chwa II, Irene Drucilla Namaganda, wore the Gomesi for the Kabaka’s coronation. It is therefore argued that the actual origin of the Gomesi as we see it today was 1914
The contemporary Gomesi
The Gomesi, also popularly called Busuuti or Bodingi is a floor-length outfit, with a square neckline, and short, elbow-length puffed sleeves. The outfit is usually made from six meters of colourful patterned fabric of either silk, cotton, satin, or polyester.
A kikooyi is worn underneath the Gomesi to give it shape and is worn with a 3 to 4 meters sash made from slightly heavier embellished fabric tied around the waist with a ‘square knot’ to hold the flowing outfit firmly together.
The Gomesi is usually worn by Baganda women on festive and formal occasions such as marriage introduction ceremonies – Kwanjula. At all official royal events women in attendance are expected to wear a Gomesi.
Today women from other ethnic groups and regions in Uganda adorn the Gomesi at formal occasions, and some regions in Eastern Uganda like Busoga have also adopted it as their traditional wear.