Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Hand woven textiles in Cote D'Ivoire today..

Côte D’Ivoire is home to a fascinating diversity of textile production traditions, the vast majority of which have hardly begun to be researched. Aside from the tie dyed raffia cloths of the Dida people, most of which incidentally are actually very newly made for export sale, the collectors' market has paid little attention to Ivoirian fabrics. Over the past decade the Civil War and the uneasy peace in a divided country that has followed have made further research difficult or impossible. For this reason I was very interested in the glimpses of contemporary cloth production and use provided by the photos and short texts in a newly published book. Somewhat misleadingly titled "Arts au feminin en Côte D’Ivoire", edited by Philippe Delanne, (le cherche midi, Paris, 2009) this is a glossy government endorsed survey subsidised by the UNFPA. Alongside printed fabrics it shows people at celebrations and events wearing a wide variety of locally woven cloths. By the far the most widely illustrated are modern Baule ikat dyed cloths as shown in the first photo.
The Baule are an Akan people who migrated to their present location in central Côte D’Ivoire from Ghana in the C16th but seem only to have learnt weaving from their Dioula neighbours in the early to mid C20th. Note the standing posture of the weavers in the photo, unlike the seated style of the Asante and Ewe in Ghana. The book notes that there are around 300 weavers in a cooperative group in the village of Bomizambo 45km from Yamoussoukro.

In contrast to the Baule, the weaving of the Dan people in the central western part of the country is very obscure. Perhaps surprisingly given the attention paid to Dan masks and sculpture I am not aware of any published images before this that show Dan textiles and weaving.

Some modern Gouro cloths worn for a wedding. The lady in the centre is wearing a Baule cloth, but the woman at the left and 2nd from right wear complex weft float decorated Gouro fabrics.

Finally, a Malinké masquerader near Bondoukou wears a modern Abron cloth.

For a selection of our vintage textiles from Côte D’Ivoire see here and for further reading see here

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.