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‘Gomesi’ Uganda’s national dress designed by a Goan?

Globalisation was never a post Liberation (1961) phenomena in the Goan society. The community had already made far away corners of the world their home. One such place where Goans thrived was Uganda. They had a strong presence in the tiny African country much like they had in other countries such as Kenya and Mozambique. It is in Uganda that a Goan would leave a indelible mark. A mark so strong that even the 1972 expulsion order could not wipe out. ‘Gomesi’ designed by Caetano Milagres Gomes, a Goan would go on to become Uganda’s de facto national dress.

Origins of Gomesi

A Goan by the name of Anton Gloria Gomes had moved to Uganda in 1905. He set up a tailoring business there. Somewhere between 1905 and 1908 Miss Alfreda Allen, Headmistress of the Gayaza High School asked Anton to stitch school uniforms for her pupils. She ordered Suuka dresses (a traditional dress made from bark cloth) and asked him to use cotton to increase its durability.

gayaza-high-sch

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The design proved unfavourable as the dress was at a risk of unraveling while carrying out the daily manual routine of the school. To address this problem Anton added a yoke to the dress. This created the basis for the ‘Gomesi’, which Anton’s younger brother Caetano would later design.

Rise in the popularity of Gomesi

Uganda in itself contained a subnational Kingdom of Buganda. It was ruled by a Kabaka (King’s title)  Daudi Chwa II from 1897 to 1939. Kabaka came to Gayaza High School to choose his wife and he did find a wife in Irene Drusilla Namaganda.

Daudi Cwa II
Daudi Cwa II

It is Miss Namaganda who popularised the Gomesi when she wore it to her husband’s coronation ceremony held in 1914 on his 18th birthday. Although the Kabaka had been in power since 1897 when he was onlay one year old toddler.

CM Gomes’ life changing moment

Since the two Gomes brothers had been stitching uniforms for the Gayaza High School. It was natural that Miss Namaganda would have known the two brothers. Hence when the opportunity arose to design a dress for the queen herself. It was Caetano Gomes who chanced upon the opportunity to do so.

Lady Irene Drusilla Namaganda (Queen of Buganda)
Lady Irene Drusilla Namaganda (Queen of Buganda)

The Gomesi has various influences that include the Edardian, Victorian and to an extent from the Sari worn in Gomes’ homeland Goa. Gomesi rose in poplarity after 1914 and went through a few changes in the following years.

Following years

Unfortunately, Gomes’ descendants suffered deportation in the early 70s. The country was in the hands of a ruthless dictator Idi Amin. He was known for policies that ruined the Ugandan economy. In 1972 he ordered all the Asian population based in Uganda to leave the country within three months

Stamp issued in December 2007 by the Ugandan government
Stamp issued in December 2007 by the Ugandan government

Many Goans were a direct casualty of this move. However, one thing Idi Amin could not get rid of is the Gomesi designed by Goa’s very own Caetano Milagres Gomes. In December 2007, the Ugandan government issued stamps in the honour of Gomesi.

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