Anyone who’s been to Africa will attest that it’s a highly animated land of color and soul. From vibrant traditions to delectable dishes to beautiful wildlife, Africa is popping with life.
One of the main markers of African culture lies in the variety of fabrics made and worn by various tribes and groups. Just about every African tribe has a distinct fabric that serves as an important part of tribal identity and pride.
Weaving is an integral part of African tradition. Fabric colors and patterns represent particular attributes and qualities like love, social status, peace, fertility, bereavement, bravery, and so on. African textiles can also commemorate specific people, age groups, families, events or even political causes. Various weaving techniques and patterns, dyeing methods and colors, and functional purposes are associated with African textiles, and each fabric holds rich cultural and historical significance.
There are so many African textiles worn by various tribes, like the akwete worn by the Igbo, the aso-oke worn by the Yoruba, the barkcloth worn by the Buganda, and so many others. The Muffin Sisters mainly use the bogolan or mudcloth (a traditional Malian fabric), kente (a traditional Ghanaian fabric), and African wax print fabrics.
Bogolanfini, or simply bogolan, is a handmade cotton textile that is dyed traditionally with fermented mud. The fabric is very significant in Malian culture and has become a major symbol of national pride in recent times. It’s also recognized all over the world as a symbol of fashion, art, and décor.
The bogolan dyeing technique is associated with several Malian ethnicities, but the Bambaran variety is most widely known internationally. In the Bambara dialect, the word bogolanfini is composed of bogo, meaning “earth” or “mud,” lan, meaning “by means of” or “with,” and fini, meaning “cloth” – in summary, mudcloth.
Traditionally, men do the weaving, and women do the dyeing. Bogolan fabric is produced in strips of about 15 centimeters (5.9 in) on narrow looms and then stitched into cloths spanning about 1.5 meters and (5 ft) long and 1 meter (3 ft) wide. The patterns represent historical events, crocodiles, which are noteworthy in Bambara mythology, and other cultural objects, proverbs, and concepts.
Culturally, bogolan is worn by hunters as a camouflage, symbol of status, and ritual protection. Malian ladies also wrap in bogolan to mark their initiation into womanhood and after childbirth to ward against evil spirits.
Over the years, bogolan has gained international acclaim and use in fashion, art, and décor. And we at Muffin Sisters love to use it in a lot of our creations as we commemorate our Malian roots.
The Ghanaian kente cloth, made of handwoven cotton and silk strips, is one of the most widely known African fabrics in the world. Historically, it was worn in a toga-like manner by the royals of the Ewe and Ashanti tribes.
Over time, the use of kente became more widespread to celebrate special events and is now the national cloth of Ghana. It is also enjoyed globally in fashion, décor, and art. Kente also makes great academic stoles for graduations and other ceremonies. The Muffin Sisters just love the colors and versatility of the kente fabric for kids’ accessories and décor.
The word kente derives from kenten, meaning “basket” in the Ashanti dialect of the Akan language. This is a reference to the fabric’s basket-like pattern. Ashanti folklore tells of how weavers learned to weave kente from the patterns of Anansi the spider. The Akan generally refer to the cloth as nwentoma meaning “woven cloth.”
Traditional kente weaving is done on a wooden loom where several dyed threads of fabric are pressed together. The patterns vary in complexity, and each motif and color has a peculiar meaning in reference to social status, important personalities, proverbs, family symbols, historical events, and plants. The designs are normally abstract, although some weavers include words and figures in their work.
Some of the meanings associated with common kente colors include:
black: maturity, spirituality, mourning
blue: peace, love, harmony
green: growth, fruitfulness, renewal
gold: royalty, glory, wealth
grey: ashes, healing, cleansing
maroon: earth, recovery, restoration
pink/purple: femininity, mildness, gentleness
red: sacrifice, death, bloodshed
silver: purity, joy, serenity
white: sanctity, sacredness, innocence
yellow: beauty, fertility, affluence
African Wax Print
African wax print fabrics are also commonly known as ankara in West Africa and kitenge in East Africa. However, quite interestingly, the method for producing these textiles was not developed in Africa at first. Yes, that’s right. Wax fabrics were first produced in Java, Indonesia!
The method of production is an ancient Javanese technique of wax-resist dyeing known as batik. First, designs are printed onto the cloth using melted wax before dyes are applied in two or three colors. The wax resists the dyes, allowing for selective coloring of the material by soaking in one color of dye, removing the wax with hot water, and repeating the process for multicolored designs.
During the Dutch colonization of Indonesia, Dutch textile factory owners learned and incorporated the batik technique but weren’t so successful in other markets. However, West African soldiers recruited to serve in Indonesia in the 19th century began to import these wax prints into Africa. Other European traders soon got involved, improved the production method and machinery, introduced the technique to Africa, and focused on the African market.
The obvious difference between African wax prints and the traditional Javanese batik, however, lies in the larger motifs with broader lines and the numerous and more vibrant colors used by African artisans.
Special modern machinery inspired by batik is responsible for the crackling effect seen on most African wax prints. The 100% cotton African wax fabrics are unique, uniform on the front and back sides, comfortable, bold, and fun to wear and decorate with.
The tribal motifs and patterns used on African wax prints attest to African culture. Each color and design has a unique meaning and reflects local symbols and traditions, as is normal with African fabrics. The materials are expressive of tribe, marital status, social class, and other attributes, serving as a non-verbal means of communication.
These fabrics are appreciated worldwide for their beauty and bright colors and find use in fashion, décor, art, and crafts. The Muffin Sisters love to make beautiful pieces for your kids using top-quality wax prints.
African textiles are vibrantly colorful, richly meaningful, and pleasantly comfortable. We love them, and we know you do too. There’s absolutely no reason not to.