Friday, 29 July 2011

Mangbetu hairstyle, Congo, 1958


Vintage postcard. Just a beautiful photo, posted for no particular reason…..

Friday, 22 July 2011

An exceptional silk Asante kente cloth



Superb and very rare museum quality Asante silk kente, early C20th, in the "mmeeda" pattern. Very finely woven supplementary weft float motifs in soft subtle colours on a muted green ground. Collected in the 1970s and in an English private collection since. Ross 1998:115 notes mmeeda means "something extraordinary" and cites Rattray (1927:241) "Asonawo mmada" - "the father of King Bonsu Panyin was Owusu Ansa, who belonged to the Asona clan, the first of that clan ever to be father of an Asante king." Details on our website here.


Some Asante kente cloths are woven from cotton, a very few highly prized heirloom pieces are silk, but the vast majority are woven from rayon, which was adopted by Asante weavers as a substitute for more expensive silk soon after it became commercially available, at least by the 1930s/40s. We focus as far as possible on  rare silk pieces rather than the more readily available rayon ones (which can be picked up  on Ebay for a few $100.)  Careful attention and a trained eye attuned to the nuances of Asante textile design will be rewarded by a greater appreciation of the skill shown by those weavers working for Asante kings and chiefs.  I assess the quality of Asante kente primarily on the scale and variety in the weft faced patterns - an exceptional example should have a wide range of motifs built up of very well executed small scale shapes rather than larger blocks of colour. Pieces of this quality are extremely hard to find and are poorly represented in museum collections, with the exception of those collected during the early 1970s by Venice Lamb (cloths now at the Smithsonian)  and Brigitte Menzel (cloths now in Leiden, Berlin and Krefeld). Their relative scarcity can be attributed to the fact that top pieces were woven in very small numbers for royal use and were property of the stool rather than the individual ruler. To view our current stock click here.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

West African Textiles from the Karun Thakar Collection now online…


Men’s wrapper cloth, Abron or Koulango peoples, Bondoukou region, Ivory Coast, circa 1900 (Photo from

The Summer 2011 issue of Hali magazine ( features the textile collection of the British collector and dealer Karun Thakar, who was for a number of years an active presence in Portobello Road. African textiles are only a small part of a vast collection of cloths and artefacts, many of museum quality and international significance, from many regions of the world. Karun was an enthusiastic (and still sadly missed) buyer in the textile market of Accra for a number of years, and together with his purchases in Portobello Road and other places, this enabled him to assemble a remarkable African collection including numerous early pieces.

Over the last few months Karun has been posting a selection of pieces from each area of his collection on line at a new website . Navigation on the site is slightly eccentric but a drop down menu at the upper right gives us an option to click on West African Textiles, bringing up four pages of thumbnail images. Some of these lead to single items, others to groups of cloths (click on the “read more” tag not the enlarge button.) Among them are several notable Nigerian cloths, an exceptional group of early Ewe and Asante cloths, and some fine early painted Islamic wrappers.


Woman’s wrapper with supplementary warp float designs, central Nigeria, possibly Jukun, C19th or early C20th. An extremely rare piece is an as yet unidentified style. (Photo from


Men’s wrapper, silk and cotton, Asante, Ghana, C19th. (Photo from


Men’s wrapper, cotton, Ewe, Ghana, early C20th. (Photo from


Men’s wrapper, cotton, painted design of Islamic amulets, made in Ghana by Hausa Koranic scholar, probably for a Fante chief, early C20th. See Hali #168 for another exceptional cloth of this type. (Photo from


Cloth in unidentified style, C19th. Catalogued as Mali, but I would suggest an example of Malian influence on the periphery of Ghanaian weaving, either in Togo or perhaps in Ivory Coast. (Photo from

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

An exceptional C19th Yoruba aso oke cloth


This classic style of nineteenth century Yoruba aso oke cloth involved the alternation of a simple warp striped strip with a second design in which supplementary weft float motifs are laid out on a fine blue and white checked background. In an early example such as this the magenta silk thread alaari from the trans-Saharan caravan trade is combined with local hand spun indigo dyed cotton. In some cases, as here, there is one different warp striped design to add variety. Although the supplementary weft float motifs are largely based on the Koranic board shape (a wooden rectangle with an arrow head at the top, used by boys at Islamic schools as a writing board) in early examples as here the weaver plays around with variations on the shape. On C20th examples the design format becomes more rigid. This cloth can be dated by comparison with examples in the British Museum accessioned in 1900. It has a very slight pink tinge from a recent washing but otherwise is in very good condition for a piece of this age. More details here.

This is one of a group of rare Nigerian textiles we have recently added to our website. Click here and visit the Nigerian gallery pages for more.