The origin and various names of the Ghanaian sack aka Chinatown tote

The origin and various names of the Ghanaian sack aka Chinatown tote

The world of textiles and accessories are a rich tapestry woven with diverse threads of culture and history. Among the fascinating artifacts that embody this global fusion is the Tartan Chinese Laundry Bag, also affectionately known as the Ghanaian Sack. In this post, we unravel the origins and various names associated with this unique piece of cultural heritage.

Some say that the Red-White-Blue bag was originally made from nylon canvas, which was invented by Japan, then exported to Taiwan and eventually came to Hong Kong. The canvas was originally used as shelter on construction sites, acting as temporary roofing in squatter areas, and as protection for farmland. It was first used for bags in the 1960s by a tailor, Lee Wah, who created the bag using the canvas from a Taiwan company. Bags were only blue and white in the first place, but red was added to the fabric so that the colour combination represented luck and good fortune.

Chinatown Tote bag used to carry laundry

Across the Indian Ocean, this iconic red-and-white and blue-and-white patterns bag is used in Nigeria, Ghana and many countries in the world. In Ghana, the bag is simply referred to as Ghanaian sack or “Efiewura Sua Me”, literally “help me carry my bag”.  The bag has a variety of other names which are listed below.

After the sudden decree by the Nigerian government in 1983, all foreigners without papers were thrown into a state of shock, fear and trepidation. Over a million Ghanaians were thrown into confusion and indecision as they weren’t even ready to return to their crisis-engulfed country, which was actually the reason many had fled to Nigeria in the first place. This mass exodus and the need to transport such loads lead to the phrase, "Ghana Must Go”.

Ghana must go tote bag

Photo project above by Likhaya Lam

Many of these deported immigrants fled the country without their luggage while those who could pack their belongings used a particular distinctive  bag which happened to be the big called ‘Ghana must go’ bag. Since then, the name has spread around the Nigerian populace and has been used as a popular travelling bag and even became an essential fashion material for the African continent.

These alienating names reveal something of the anxiety expressed towards the carriers of these bags in the communities they relocate to. These bags have become global symbols of migration - not only across borders but also within countries. They are objects that carry a home and act as a means of survival for one who does not have much.


Credit: The laundrette by Hayley Grundmann

Other names for this bag have developed across the world in Turkey, the bags is called the "Türkenkoffer" (Turkish suitcase), in the US, the "Chinatown tote", in Guyana, the "Guyanese Samsonite", and in various other places, the "Refugee Bag". It is often associated with and used for migration.

We were inspired by this bag as running my own business i have moved around stock in these bags plenty of times. So when it came to designing the very first print for Goodordering, i simply couldn't look past this design.

Image above - Jacqui Ma with the tartan range and the original laundry bag that it was originally inspired by.

The various names for this bag:

In Namibia the bag is called "Mwaudako" meaning you also heard it,simple because because people that go for mourning gathering they pack their belongings there, then when they come people they can see they also heard of the death news of a certain person

In Zambia it is called the "ukwa bag" or "sak bag"

In Namibia some call it Mairandopi, some Maidako or 'No problem' because anything can fit in it.

In Mali they call it "Tounka madiana"

In Guyana and the Caribbean it is called the "Guyanese Samsonite"

In Hong Kong they call them "amah bag" named after the domestic servants in hong kong and the bags they carry on their days off

In Turkey, the bags is called the "Türkenkoffer" which translates to “Turkish suitcase”

In the USA it is referred to as the “Chinatown tote”, or the Mexican Bag

In Germany, they are known as Turkish Bags

South Africans call these China bags 

Zimbabwe bags

Khumbulekhaya bags


In the UK and other countries this bag is also called the Red-white-blue bag.

Modern representations

Italian designers such as Celine, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton have glamorised the famous Ghana-must go-print. There was a high fashion version of the bag, produced by Louis Vuitton in 2007. The pattern has also made its way into clothing design.

Louis Vuitton tote bag

The design has also inspired other bags such as this tote bag below by opening ceremony. (below)

At Goodordering we were also inspired by this fabric. Rather than being woven, the tartan design is printed on eco, recycled nylon. The concept of cycling to work each day carrying work items in a print originally made for the purpose of migration is a provocative thought.

Goodordering laundrette tartan range

This photoshoot was done in Brighton in a local laundrette featuring some of the bags from the Goodordering tartan range. Some of the favourite bags include the spacious rolltop backpack and the Billow designed for lounging at the park or beach. 

Goodordering tartan bag shoot laundrette

Learn more about each of the individual Goodordering tartan bags at this link to the shop HERE

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