Monday, 31 May 2010

A Wolof weaver on Goree island, 1844


Although this sketch in the French National Archives is not the earliest depiction of a West African weaver it is exceptionally detailed and clear for a nineteenth century source. It was drawn by Isidore Hedde (1801-1880) a ribbon manufacturer from St. Etienne whose boat paused in Senegal on route to China as part of a French diplomatic mission. Undoubtedly Hedde’s own background in weaving contributed to the attention he paid to depicting the key loom components. The weaver is described as a slave and griot, although it seems likely, to me at least, that “slave” is Hedde’s gloss on the complex and anomalous status of weavers and other craftspeople in Senegambian societies. The drawing is accompanied by an important letter that describes at some length his observations on textile production in Goree at that date, including the surprising fact that there were 114 weavers on the small island. Click here to see more details.

By way of comparison, here is a Senegalese weaver depicted on an old postcard, dating from about 1905, by Charles Fortier (author’s collection.)

fortier weaver

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