African textiles and prints are forms of expression that define the real Africans. The art of designing, fabricating, and embroidering traditional African textiles is as old as time. There is no need for manuscripts or historical books to know about African history. These textiles can make you familiar with rich African textile history. The traditional ways of making these fabrics pass from one generation to the other. Craftsmen and women still use those ancient practices of cloth-making that were used by their ancestors.
African textile has proved that clothing can commemorate people, events, and even political causes. It often conveys essential cultural information. These fabrics play a prominent role in festivities and ceremonies. People in Africa have used different fabrics for personal adornment. These fabrics are also employed as a powerful mode of communication for centuries. Their importance can still be seen not only in Africa but also in other parts of the world. One could witness how African textiles have become the most significant channel. The contemporary African artists reveal the connections and endurances between past and present modes of African artistic expression.
Original African textiles give a real insight into many African communities’ social, religious, and economic complications. Many communities have sophisticated cultures which would have remained unfamiliar otherwise.
Besides this, African textiles are so wonderful to feast one’s eyes!
Several Uses of African Textiles
1. African textiles have had a tremendous significance as a means of communication and mutual association within specific communities. The choice of colors, dyes, and type of threads used all have spiritual and historical significance. The decorative element, the figural compositions, and the symbols used are directly related to historical events and proverbs. They represent a form of storytelling.
2. African textiles are often used for commemorative purposes marking special occurrences like weddings, funerals, burials, naming ceremonies, political or tribal events.
3. They are used as personal adornments. They are wrapped as skirts around waists and hips and thrown over the shoulder. They are also made into tunics and robes. African textiles are not always used as a garment. It is also sometimes used as backdrops in public ceremonies.
4. African textiles are also used as items of warmth or cover. Crafting beautiful products is a centuries-old tradition and culture. It infuses some African communities with elegance and vibrancy in their clothing attire.
Tradition Textiles of Africa & Their Reasons of Popularity
Nigerian “Adire” Cloth: The word “Adire” is used for indigo-dyed cloth. It is produced by Yoruba women of southwestern Nigeria. They use a variety of resist dye techniques from authentic adire cloth. Adire means to tie and dye. The fabrics present in the past were probably simple tied designs. These designs are made on locally-woven hand-spun cotton cloth. In the 20th century, access to imported shirting material in certain Yoruba towns, particularly Abeokuta, empowered women dyers to become both artists and entrepreneurs. They developed the latest resist-dyeing techniques. They also started practicing hand-painting designs on the cloth with a cassava starch paste before dyeing it. This was known as adire eleko. Many more additions were made to it, and this cloth evolved more from a fashion perspective. Some popular designs using Adire include the jubilee pattern, Olokun or “goddess of the sea,” and Ibadadun “Ibadan is sweet.”
Kuba Cloth: this textile gives you a glimpse of the fascinating kingdoms in the past. The bold graphic black patterns of this cloth represent the movement. It features both repeated themes and irregularities between the sections. Kuba cloth is traditionally woven using raffia palm fibers. It is available in a variety of shapes and sizes. The process of its making involves the stripping of raffia fibers first. They are then kneaded for an initial softening. The strands are then dyed using vegetable dyes. These strands are made in shades of ivory, brown, clay red, and indigo blue. All these colors are associated with many parts of the Kuba kingdom. Then weaving of the fabric is performed by Kuba men. Kuba women later finish the fabric.
Yoruba Ase Oke: Ase Oke is a cloth named after a Yoruba acknowledgment. It means "greetings on the spending of money.” It is a woven fabric that men on narrow strip knit looms using cotton or silk. It is significant to Yoruba men and women. They offer visual grandeur as well as social respect to both the wearer and the weaver. It is one of the wonderful 'prestigious' fabrics woven by Yoruba men in Nigeria on narrow strip looms. Ase Oke often features intricate lace-like patterns which were merged into weaves. They used to do this when imported lace was not available. Other designs feature gold and silver metallic threads. Ase Oke is worn by both men and women. Among the different types of traditional Ase oke worn by Yoruba people, given below are some of them:
Alaari - a rich red aso oke
Sanyan - a brown and usually light brown aso oke
Etu - a dark blue aso oke
This vibrant, hand-loomed cotton cloth is used to create traditional as well as modern outfits.
The Okene Cloth: Women’s weaves Nigeria: Okene Cloth is a woven cloth. It is weaved at the loom by the Ebira people in Okene. The Ebira people are well-known for being extrovert and hardworking. They are traditionally farmers and cloth-weavers. Ebira Women have been weaving Okene Cloth for centuries. This cloth is locally known as Ita-inochi. This woven cloth varies from a simple weave to more sophisticated patterns. The cloth is weaved using various threads. These result in the development of different clothes. These clothes are called by different names depending on the cloth woven. For instance, the name Ache Ohu has been obtained from Ohu thread, and Ache silk is derived from silk thread. The making of this cloth involves a rhythmic movement. Children in Okene have grown up learning the making of this cloth in their homes. The fabric is super beautiful, handmade, and unique.
Kente Cloth- Ashanti, Ghana: This cloth pattern is inspired by a spider’s web. Originally, the kente use was reserved only for Asante royalty. It was limited to special social and sacred functions. As the production of Kente cloth increased, this cloth becomes more accessible to those outside the royal court. But it is still associated with wealth, high social status, and cultural sophistication. Kente is also found in Asante shrines to the divinities, or abosom, as a symbol of their spiritual power. This woven fabric is made on a horizontal strip loom. It is produced as a narrow band of cloth about four inches wide. Several strips of this cloth are later arranged and hand-sewn together carefully. It is done to create a cloth of the desired size. Most Kente weavers are men. Each pattern formed has a name. These names are inspired by historical events, proverbs, human and animal behavior, individual achievements, philosophical concepts, oral literature, moral values, or even individuals in pop culture.
Bokolonfini: It is popular as Bògòlanfini or bogolan or “mud cloth,” is a handmade Malian cotton fabric. It is traditionally dyed using fermented mud. It has a great significance in traditional Malian culture. Recently, it has become a mark of Malian cultural identity. The cloth is exported worldwide for use in fine art, fashion and decoration. The cloth is soaked in a bath of dye made from the leaves of the n’gallama tree. It is then painted in complex motifs with a distinct fermented mud. This mud is collected from riverbeds. In traditional bògòlanfini production, men used to do the weaving of the cloth, and women used to dye it. People of all backgrounds wear the cloth. It is prominent in Malian cinema and wore by Malian musicians. They wear it either as an expression of ethnic identity or as a fashion style.
The reasons for such long existence of African fabrics are the quality, uniqueness in the making, and a high comfort level. The vibrant colors of this fabric grab the attention of anyone. Even the designs with which fabrics are woven add elegance to it. It would capture the hearts of fashionistas and those who are fond of unique designs. The designs and colors are used to represent the unique cultural identity of the Africans. African fabrics have engulfed the global fashion market. Web portals like Africa Imports offer several traditional fabrics at wholesale rates. That’s the reason how such woven fabrics are accessible to everyone.