The origins of African fabric in Africa
30 Apr 2017 ARTS & CULTURE
By Motlagae Konyana
African fabrics and prints are worn with pleasure and it is every woman’s pride to be wearing an African print at an occasion. Many of us don’t know the history of African cloth, the significance of the colours and the prints. African fabrics have bright colours, idiosyncratic designs and patterns that are hand-made which give us a sense of a rich cultural meaning. But is there more to know about African fabrics and why it is significant?
Traditionally, African cloths were worn for special occasions such as family reunions, weddings, and events. These fabrics would not be worn for any particular significance or importance. African fabric forms part of a cultural identity and an emblem of cultural heritage. Actually, in Africa, there are a variety of fabrics from different groups of people.
Shweshwe – South Africa (Southern Africa)
Shweshwe is a printed dyed cotton fabric widely used for traditional South African clothing. It was traditionally used for weddings and family functions and was only produced in three colours (Brown, Red, Blue). Originally dyed navy, the fabric is now manufactured in a variety of colours and printing designs characterised by sophisticated geometric patterns.
Ankara – Nigeria (West Africa)
Ankara is an African print, popularly known as Ankara in Nigeria. The print gained its popularity in global fashion in 2010 but it has been in existence for many years. Ankara was originally manufactured by the Dutch for the Indonesian textile market, however, the prints gained significantly more interest in West African countries because of the tribal-like patterns. Ankara is formerly known as Dutch wax print by African Print Dutch Company Vlisco.
Baoule – Cote d’Ivoire (West Africa)
In Cote d’Ivoire, Baoule is woven in five-inch wide strips of fabric. The strips are then sewn together to make the fabric. The cloth is very heavy and thick. This hand-woven cloth is worn with pride and forms part of the emblem of being African. They are used to design bags, shoes, and dresses, African shirts for the men.
Chitenge – Zambia (East Africa)
Kitenge or chitenge is an East African, West African and Central African fabric similar to a sarong. It is often worn by women and wrapped around the chest or waist, over the head as a headscarf, or as a baby sling. Kitenges are similar to kangas (African Garment worn by a women or a man) and the kikoy Kitenge is a thick cloth that has an edging on only the long side with bold and bright colours.
Many African countries have adopted the different patterns that symbolise the countries’ culture and identity. These different fabrics play a part in promoting African culture. Given the evolution of African cloth, we can be proud to use the fabric in our everyday clothing and not only for events.
Kente – Ghana (West Africa)
Kente is a brightly coloured, inked material with different patterns and designs which is made in Ghana. This cloth is known as “nwentom” in the Akan – ethnic group of South Ghana. The Kente cloth is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips. It has also been adopted by Cote d’Ivoire. The Kente was originally manufactured in yellow and green, but we have now seen the fabric in different colours and designs without losing the Kente pattern.
Pictures: Wikipedia; Origin Of Ankara.