Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The "Spotted Hyena" - Dioula ikat weaving in northern Ivory Coast

A Dioula weaver at work in the square beside the mosque, Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. Vintage postcard, circa 1910, author's collection.

The Dioula or Dyula are a Muslim Mande-speaking people who migrated from present day Mali into what is now northern Cote D'Ivoire and southern Burkina Faso in the sixteenth century. Specialists in long-distance trade, Islamic scholarship, and textile production the Dioula were key players in the distribution of weaving technology throughout West Africa. Dioula weavers wove cloths for their own use and for trading both locally to farming peoples such as the Senufo and Koulango, and as trade goods for their long distance caravans south to the Guinea coast and east via Bondoukou to Salaga in northern Ghana.

Key features of Dioula weaving were complex supplementary weft float motifs, the early introduction of imported red threads, and at least from the end of the C19th, the use of ikat (ikat was rare in West African weaving - the Yoruba in Nigeria were the other main practitioners of the technique.) The "spotted hyena" or "suruku kawa" was the Dioula name for the oldest of their warp ikat patterned designs, in which solid blocks of indigo blue across the whole strip width alternated along the cloth with the white cotton ground. These ikat decorated strips could be used to create an overall checker board layout of alternated with warp striped or check patterned strips.

"Elegantes de Kong" (Prouteaux 1925, p.608)

In the second half of the C20th hand-woven cloth was no longer part of everyday dress but was still in demand for weddings, festivals, and other ceremonial occasions. The suruku kawa pattern was no longer fashionable and was displaced by other ikat designs developed mainly by the Baule who had taken over and elaborated the Dioula technique.

An elderly Dioula weaver, Dar Salami, south Burkina Faso, 2004 (auther's photograph.)

Dioula cloths were not widely collected and are poorly represented in museum collections, with the exception of Basel Museum, where a number of important pieces are included in their current exhibition "Woven Beauty." We have now posted on our gallery website a fine group of mid-C20th examples collected in north east Cote D'Ivoire. For details and prices see our page here. For more on Dioula weaving see chapter by Dr Kerstin Bauer in the Basel exhibition catalogue here.

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