Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Cloth of the month: A Mende display cloth, Sierra Leone


Prestige display cloth from the Mende people of Sierra Leone, first half of C20th. The almost square format suggests that this cloth was intended as a backdrop for an event, such as a chieftaincy ceremony or a Sande/Bundu society ‘graduation.’ Hand-spun indigo dyed cotton float weave patterning on a hand spun white cotton ground. The layout of this piece, with a central supplementary weft float pattern block joined by diagonal weft float patterns to each end of the border corresponds most closely to a cloth in the British Museum’s Beving collection (Af1934,0307.182 – see Lamb & Lamb, Sierra Leone Weaving, Roxford, 1984, page 106.) The Lamb’s identify this style of cloth as a subgroup of kpokpo called kula njawi (op.cit.) However the decorative technique used to create the “step” pattern on this example is very unusual – narrow weft stripes in indigo dyed cotton alternate with single rows of supplementary weft float. Although I have seen this combination on Nigerian and Ivoirian cloths I have not previously noted it on any from Sierra Leone.


Old cloths from Sierra Leone are extremely hard to source as very many of the more elaborate examples such as this were the property of chiefs and other wealthy families whose homes were targeted during the civil war. Condition is excellent. Measurements: 83 ins x 70, 212 cm x 179.


Click on the photos to enlarge. More information on our indigo cloth gallery here.

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