Thursday, 14 June 2012

Silk in the Sahel: Tuntun and Marka Faso Dan Fani in Northwestern Burkina Faso


The latest issue of African Arts magazine (Summer 2012, Volume 45, #2) includes as important article by Genevieve Hill-Thomas which explores the use of wild silk by the Marka people of Burkina Faso in the weaving of strip woven wrapper cloths known as faso dan fani. Although general texts on the arts of Burkina had noted that wild silk was woven in the region, this was not well known even to students of African textiles  and has received far less attention than wild silk cloth production among the Yoruba and Hausa in Nigeria.

Large pods containing many cocoons are collected in the bush, or as they become increasingly scarce, purchased from as far away as Ghana. Supervised by a family matriarch the pods are boiled with wood ash and potash to separate the fibres. After drying they are carded and spun in preparation for weaving. Interestingly Hill-Thomas notes that today many weavers substitute kapok fibres from silk-cotton trees for the more expensive silk, and that often only knowledgeable consumers can tell the difference in the finished cloth.


The tuntun silk is used to weave warp stripes in otherwise cotton cloths called faso dan fani. Dyed either dark indigo, medium blue,  or light brown, together with undyed white yarn, these four colours are combined in strips, making either shike, if cotton is used alone, or tuntun fani if silk stripes are included. After being sewn up to make 13-strip pagne of six-strip scarves, the cloths are overdyed with indigo. In the case of the tuntun this results in a finished cloth that is black, light blue, and greenish brown.


“While beliefs about tuntun fani’s magical qualities vary considerably,  the textile has decidedly spiritual connotations. Weaving families – whether Muslim, Christian, or animist – hold that their work is sacred and the resulting cloth is blessed.”

All photos by Genevieve Hill-Thomas.  Reproduced wiith permission.

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