When you travel through Africa you will see all sorts of vibrant delicious cloths worn by women with pride and men just the same but behind all these colors , patterns and textures there are stories to be told, stories of love, prosperity, wealth and unity, Umodzi!
(picture by Annie Spratt – unsplash.com)
Choosing fabrics should not be a random, there is a rich history behind all these delicate textures and patterns that is interesting to understand. These fabrics are more than just a fashion statement, they describe status in society, hierarchy and allegiance to tribal roots. The use of different symbols and patterns are also an expression of culture, values and personal beliefs, for example the shape of a palm tree which would ordinarily be a symbol of self-sufficiency is used to highlight that human beings are not self-sufficient.
Even the choice of fabric for face masks can be pretty intense across the continent and we show this in some of the reposts on our Instagram page @umodziuk. To capture the diversity of styles in facemasks across the continent we do our best to source different fabrics from the markets in Accra, Ghana including Kente’s Ankara, Akwete and Chitenge..
Even the Umodzi Gin bottle is designed in a pattern and symbolic way to show that it is an African work of art. The intrecit design was constructed from an existing premium font to an Afro-Native Typology which is bold, tribal unique and carries the essence of African heritage and pride and the logo was also inspired by numerous ancient African alphabets across various African cultures. Visit the Umodzi Gin Instagram page for more information on the design and to appreciate this unique bottle design. @umodzigin
One of the most popular and loved cloths in Africa is known as “Kente”, originating from Ghana. This cloth is believed to be the cloth of royalty. There are more than 300 patterns of kente cloth and these patterns are created by weaving of bright colored threads into several panels. Spinning and weaving of these threads is believed to be likened to human reproduction and rebirth.
The most common colors used are:
You will also notice a lot of different kinds of symbols on this famous Kente fabric such as squares which represent the cosmos and life; Triangles symbolizing birth and existence; diamonds which are mostly worn by royalty to show their dual linked roles as man and king; circles represent infinity of royal power and image and zigzags which mean life does not follow a straight path.
(example of chitenge fabric from Malawi – Google images)
In southern Africa, countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Namibia we have cloth known as chitenge or kitenge. These cloths were seen mostly as a symbol of purity and respect and for many decades was only worn by women to keep everything covered from their midriffs to their thighs as these parts of the body were believed to be scared. But things have since then evolved, you now find men wearing chitenge in the form of outfits for wedding and special occasions or simply draped cross their right shoulder as a symbol of ones status in the community. As times have evolved these clothes have also become more decorated with different patterns and symbols and sometimes even political slogans. This is where we will source our fabric for the handmade chitenge facemasks.
(chitenge cloth dress - image from thebestofzambia.com)
Prior to the millennium, chitenge cloth was seen as a cheap fabric worn by the underclass, but times have changed and has in recent years been used by international designers and has been elevated into the fashion world. Chitenge cloth is now more than just ordinary, it possess character and energy and is a constant reminder of African Identity through African clothing products that are now found in high-end stores throughout the world.
Central Africa is well known for their “Kuba Raphia” cloth. This cloth is indigenous to countries such as The Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameron. The textile comes from Rapia Palm tree. The Rapia palm is stripped from its skin and dried in the sun and is then perfected through the weaving of the stripe palm together with cotton and other fibers and is later defined by indigenous embroidery and dying techniques.
This rich cloth is so delicate however that it can only be washed in cold water and very mild detergents and drying is done by patting the cloth to remove any excess moisture. The weaving is done by men and the sophisticated embellishments are done by women. In previous centuries the Kubo cloth was sometimes used as currency because of richness and diversity and also time consuming element to actually make this indigenous cloth. Imagine wearing this rich fabric on your body everyday, you would feel like a king or queen with its fashionable patterns like art pieces from heaven.
Have you ever imagined wearing mud? Well that that is exactly how the “Bogolanfini” or “Bogolan” fabric from Mali is made. The word “Bogolanfini” itself is a composite of the words “Bogo” meaning earth or mud, “Lan” which means with or by means of and “fini” meaning cloth. Bogolanfini is usually translated into “Mud cloth”. This rather interesting fabric is woven by the Malian men and then the women begin the process of dyeing by soaking the cloth in dye made from leaves of n’gallama tree. The leaves are mashed and boiled before the cloth is soaked. The cloth will then turn yellow and is sun dried before being painted with indigenous designs using a piece of metal or wood. The special paint is made from mud from river beds and is fermented for up to a year in a clay jar hence the name “mud cloth”. In the Malian culture these clothes were traditionally word by hunters and women would wear these clothes as they entered adulthood or after giving birth as it was believed that the cloth had supernatural powers that absorbed dangerous forces. These days the fabric is worn by Malian celebrities as fashion statements or simply as an expression of ethnic identity.
(picture by Trang Nguyen – unsplash.com)
Sourcing fabrics in Africa has become more than just a mere shopping experience but a history lesson about the origins of these textiles. It is more than choosing your favorite color to make beautiful African clothing products, but a journey into the abyss of African diversity, synergy and unity. It is a journey of patterns and symbols of royalty, the circle of life and sometimes even femininity. None the less you are sure to come back with more than just a few meters of fabric.