Wednesday, 29 October 2014

An early Cameroun chief’s robe.


Chief’s prestige robe, Grassfields region, Cameroun, early C20th. Private collection, London. Front view.

This exceptional robe is tailored from hand woven hand spun indigo dyed cotton cloth that was woven in quite wide panels. The most probable source for this cloth would be the upright single heddle looms used by women weavers in many parts of Nigeria and the western part of Cameroun, although the cloth is of a looser weave and lighter weight than  is typical of Nigerian textiles of this type. The neck area is lined with a thin check patterned linen fabric that looks to be of French origin, while the hem and sleeve areas are dyed with a type of Central European patterned indigo cotton fabric called blaudrucke  - shown below.


Both the front and the back are decorated with hand embroidered designs in white, red, and yellow cotton. The large lozenge shape that encompasses the neck may perhaps be regarded as representing a necklace from which a giant bead or pendant is suspended. Small “double gong” motifs hanging from the “belt” area  are an early representation of what would become the dominant decorative motif on later Cameroun robes,  while the small lizards and other animals are quite a distinctive and unusual feature not typically found on robes even though they are part of the design repertoire of prestige sculptures and other royal artefacts.


Chief’s prestige robe, Grassfields region, Cameroun, early C20th. Private collection, London. Front view, detail.


Chief’s prestige robe, Grassfields region, Cameroun, early C20th. Private collection, London. Back view, detail.


Chief’s prestige robe, Grassfields region, Cameroun, early C20th. Private collection, London. Back view.

The construction of this robe from broad panels of hand woven indigo dyed cloth of uncertain origin compares closely to the robe shown below, which was collected before 1908 and is in the collection of the Museum der Kulturen, Basel.


“Cameroun: boubou bali, 198 x 130 cm. Collection du missionnaire G. Spellenberg (?), datent sans doute d’avant 1908. Collection de la Mission de Bale, Museum der Kulturen, Basel.” Scanned from Bernhard Gardi ed. Le Boubou –c’est chic (Editions Christoph Merian, 2000).

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Cultural Event in Taraba State, Nigeria

Some interesting images taken recently at a cultural event involving masquerade performances, taken recently in Bete or Betso Takum LGA Taraba state. This is a comparatively remote area close to the border with Cameroon. I am particularly interested to see indigo adire type resist dyed cloths still in use, a feature which is rarely seen in Nigeria today. Source: King Agbo Ebonyi on Facebook.


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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Sierra Leone Cloths at Wembley, 1924–another view.


Some months ago I posted a note on the display of Sierra Leone textiles at the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley in 1924. I have since found this card which gives a better view of the “country cloths” on show. I wonder where they are today.

Madam Yoko, a Mende Chief, Sierra Leone


“Madam Yoko or Mammy Yoko (ca. 1849–1906) was a leader of the Mende people in Sierra Leone. Combining advantageous lineage, shrewd marriage choices and the power afforded her from the secret Sande society, Yoko became a leader of considerable influence. She expanded the Mende Kingdom and at the time of her death, she was the ruler of the vast Kpa Mende Confederacy.” Source: Wikipedia


Vintage postcards, circa 1900, author’s collection.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

New Book: “The Silence of the Women: Bamana Mud Cloths” by Sarah C. Brett-Smith


I am very excited to finally have a copy of the long awaited book The Silence of the Women: Bamana Mud Cloths by Sarah C. Brett-Smith. Published by 5 Continents this is an important as well as beautiful volume that combines art book presentation with deep ethnographic research. It is several decades since Sarah published a number of interesting and insightful articles on bogolanfini mud cloth, the subject of her Phd research in the 1970s, so it is great to finally read her full work on the subject.


Photo by Sarah C. Brett-Smith. “Salimata Kone painting the “foot of the dove” (ntufan sen) motif in the centre of a cloth decorated with the “Town gate” (Kalanga da) pattern. She is using a metal spatula. Kolokani, 7/5/78.