Monday, 9 December 2013

Hausa cloth workers in Kura, 2006.

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The famous indigo dye pits at the Kofar Mata gate in Kano may be the last few survivors in the city of what was once a massive local industry supplying highly prized burnished indigo turbans and robes to wealthy patrons throughout the Sahara and Sahel but today they are a rather sad sight, with only a few remaining dyers who largely make tie dye patterned cloths for the extremely desultory tourist trade. However a short drive outside Kano the village of Kura still retains  its ancient specialisation supplying merchants from Niger and Mali. For the most expensive cloths cloth is woven from very fine spun cotton into strips only around 1 cm in width – these are the narrowest strips produced anywhere in West Africa.

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Between sixty and one hundred and twenty strips are then sewn together edge to edge to make a turban before being dyed in indigo. In order to obtain the darkest possible colour the cloth is immersed and then drawn out to oxidise the dye repeatedly.

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The dyed cloth is then dried in the sun.

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It is then ready for the cloth beaters, another specialised craft requiring great skill.

Water is sprayed onto a cloth dusted with powdered indigo and animal fat.

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Two workers use heavy wooden mallets to beat the cloth, giving it a metallic sheen and folding it repeatedly until a long narrow bar of cloth is ready to be wrapped in paper for sale.

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Two completed bars of cloth can be seen behind the seated man below.

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Click on the photos to enlarge. All photos above © Duncan Clarke.


The Hausa/Fulani chief Sarkin Zamfara Ahmadu Barmo, Anka, north Nigeria 1961/62, photographer Brigitte Menzel. Indigo dyed and glazed turban.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Cloth of the month: Two Kanuri women’s robes.


The far north eastern corner of Nigeria and adjacent areas of Cameroun and Chad are today best known for Islamist insurgency but were once the centre of a powerful kingdom known to historians as Kanem-Bornu that grew rich through controlling the southern end of one of the most important trans-Saharan trade routes.  The Kanuri rulers maintained close links with both other trade centres in the Sahel such as Kano and Timbuktu and with north African trading centres and as a result developed a distinctive material culture  that today is little known. Among the most spectacular features were these embroidered tunic that formed a key part of ceremonial attire for high status Kanuri women. 


Made from imported trade cloth hand embroidered with brightly coloured silks these duriya tunics seem to have been quite varied in style during the nineteenth century, as indicated by examples in museum collections in Berlin and Paris, but to have become more standardised during the first half of the C20th. Our example, shown above, which was collected during the 1950s, is very similar to the single tunic in the British Museum that David Heathcote obtained in the early 1970s (British Museum #Af2008,2025.22) Tunics with embroidered decoration all over were known as sharwan kura (Lyndersay, Nigerian Dress, 2011), while those with more restricted decoration as below were   called kura.



As the sketch below indicates in use they formed part of an elaborate outfit combined with a headcloth, waist wrapper and a large wrapper called a leppaye that could be either locally woven or imported cloth.


From: Dani Lydersay, Nigerian Dress, the Body Honoured (2011, CBAAC, Lagos.)


This photo from the Bella Naija website shows a modern version at an elite Kanuri wedding.

To visit our gallery of West African robes clock here.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Three early postcards from Benin.


Vintage postcard, circa 1900, Benin Republic. Caption" Dahomey woman." Photographer Geo Wolber.


Vintage postcard, before 1904. Caption "The King of Sakete", Benin Republic.


Vintage postcard, circa 1900, Benin Republic, caption "A cunning Hausa" - photographer Geo. Wolber.