The Story Behind Uganda's Gomesi
In 1904, the Church Missionary Society, the British Protestant missionaries, set up Gayaza High School, the first all girls school in Uganda. The school was requested by a Muganda chief, Sir Apolo Kagwa, who considered the lack of girl’s education in the kingdom to be ‘Buganda’s broken arm’. The move was resisted by other chiefs, who felt that girls should stay at home, and not be educated. But Kagwa won, and the Church Missionary Society built the school in Gayaza, on 140 acres of land donated by Kagwa. The school opened its gates in 1905.
However, there was a dilemma regarding uniform. Not approving of the traditional dress, called the suuka, which left the shoulders bare, the British head mistress, Alfreda Allen instructed the Gomes brothers, two Goan tailors based in Kampala, to design something more modest and covered. They came up with a high neck dress with puff sleeves and a sash around the middle. Their design was adopted, and called the gomesi, after its creators.
The gomesi has become the traditional dress of the Baganda, worn at important cultural functions, such as a marriage introduction (kwanjula), marriages and funerals.