Monday, 25 June 2012

Installing a Hogon in Sangha, Mali, 2012


Hogon are medicinal specialists, herbalists and healers among the Dogon people of Mali. These photos, from a set recently posted on Facebook, shows views of the installation of two hogon in the village of Sangha, one of the best known and most frequently visited Dogon villages. The great quantity and variety of locally made textiles on display provide a superb insight into the use of hand-woven cloth in the region today.

In the photo above a mud brick house has been draped in cloths to serve as a backdrop for the event. Brightly coloured strip weave blankets of the types that can be found in markets throughout the Sahel provide dramatic blocks of colour. Most of these cloths would have been the work of Mabuube weavers, a weavers ‘clan’ attached to Fulani families. In between is a darker row (click the photo to enlarge) made up of blue and white prestige blankets called uldebe. These cloths, in which nine strips are matched to nine blocks of weft designs, are of considerable prestige and ritual significance among the Dogon. Finally, stacked at the stop are wheels of plain white cotton cloth strips, an ancient form of wealth throughout the Sahel, that today form the basis for either indigo resist dyed wrappers of for bogolan mud dyed fabrics for sale to tourists.


The hogon is seated on an uldebe cloth against a backdrop of multi-coloured tapie blankets, with more wheels of white cotton cloth at his side. He wears a beautiful indigo dyed robe, and on his head, a turban of very narrow strip indigo cloth most likely imported from Nigeria. At his feet another uldebe serves as a receptacle for gifts.


A women celebrant in her best outfit wears another blanket, an updated black and yellow version of an old blue and white design,  as a prestige shawl.


All photos by Inogo Dolo, reproduced with permission.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Liberian Rice Bag–weaving without a loom..


Drifts of slowly decaying black plastic bags are an all too frequent site in even the remotest villages in West Africa in recent years. Today’s post looks back to an earlier time when in at least one region of Africa simple and beautiful bags were made locally using dried fibres from the raffia palm. In Liberia rice was the staple crop and women carried it home from the market in small (less than 30 cm length plus fringe) finely woven bags decorated with check patterns.


Although represented in the “material culture” collections of a number of museums, these bags would have been used and discarded many decades ago and are probably impossible to collect today. I was very happy to find this example recently among a group of artefacts collected over the years by an American missionary family. They are created without a loom, using bundles of warp fibres tied at one end to a post and divided into three groups, with a simple string heddle in each group used to create the shed allowing weft threads to be inserted by hand. A seamless tube is created which is sealed with a knot at the bottom and left open with a long fringe at the top. The same technique is used by the Dida people of Ivory Coast to weave plain raffia tubes that are later tie dyed to create their now well-known fabrics.


The photo below shows a Loma woman making a raffia bag in Guinea close to the Liberia border. (H. Labouret, before 1933. reproduced from Karl-Ferdinand Schaedler Weaving in Africa (Pantterra Verlag, Munich, 1987.)


For more information, images of several bags in a museum collection, an early photo of a Dan man making a bag, and a fuller description of the technique see Monni Adams and T. Rose Holdcraft Dida Woven Raffia Cloth from Cote D’Ivoire in African Arts magazine XXV (3) 1992.

Click on the images to enlarge.

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.