Firstly, here's Brenda Fassie, super renowned musician from South Africa who sang against apartheid.
And also Tiken Jah Fakoly, a reggae singer from Cote d’Ivoire with a title called Ouvrez les Frontieres.
Fabrics - I’m of that generation who grew up wearing clothes made by their female relatives - mother, grandmothers and aunts. Sorry to be so genderised, but this is ancient history, nothing I can do about it now :) Back then, women were expected to know how to work yarns and needles and hooks as a matter of course. Readymades were expensive, not exactly a vast choice in the range either. My mother made most of my regular clothes. I’d be marched off to the neighbourhood tailor's occasionally for fancier clothes - the annual festivals, family weddings, school uniforms. Readymade frocks were super-rare, a beyond-the-ambit-of-dreams luxury, I can remember only three such dresses in the few years of my pre-Nigeria life.
Once we landed up in North-Eastern Nigeria, my mother took over my entire wardrobe. Store bought dresses were only possible when my father travelled to the big cities on work, Lagos or Kano, infrequently.
|A wax print fabric from Nigeria|
I wasn’t much interested in clothes at that stage, but the local market was stocked with a range of fabrics, amazingly unique colours and bold prints. I later came to know these are called wax prints. The available textiles were not confined to just wax prints though, there were fabrics from around the world – China, Indonesia, Europe and locally made. Cotton production was booming in West Africa and the variety of materials available was mind boggling. My mum had a great time picking out stuff for her sewing projects.
This was my uniform - the formal Nigerian attire,
which we were supposed to wear while out of the
residential school compound on fancy occasions.
Wax prints or Wax Hollandaise started off first in the Netherlands in 1860’s by a company called Vlisco, a factory imitation of the handcrafted batik designs of Java. They were not popular in the Indonesian market, unsurprisingly, so Vlisco sent a shipment to West Africa and boom! they took off! As their volumes and popularity grew, they were gradually modified exclusively for the African market.
Vlisco have been present in the West African market since 1870’s. After independence in the 1960’s, import duties on foreign textiles were raised, and so Vlisco set up local factories to produce these wildly popular textiles now called ‘African prints.’ There has been some controversy surrounding them, as some people feel they are being passed off as African when they are actually not. Some others feel they have falsified the history of African textiles, diverting attention from the indigenous contribution. It can’t be denied also that very few Africans make any substantial incomes from them, even the local mills are held mostly by foreigners.
The history of African textiles is of course way longer than the Dutch wax prints. It starts with flax cultivation and weaving of linen in the Nile Valley in Ancient Egypt some 7500 years ago. Most of sub-Saharan Africa had developed their own regional textile traditions much before Vlisco sent in the shipments in the 19th century. West Africa in particular has a deep and rich past in textiles. The earliest surviving sample from sub-Saharan Africa comes from the Igbo culture in South Eastern Nigeria and dates back to about 9th century BC. Ibn Battuta mentions the weavers of Mali in his travels in the 14th century. It is reported that the European colonisers were taken aback at the richness of the royal outfits of the kings of the Ashante in Ghana. Indigo dyeing at the Kofar Mata dye pits outside Kano goes back for half a millennium. There is much more to African fabrics than just wax Hollandaise. This is another instance of partial reporting that hijacks the African narrative in insidious ways.
|A great stash of memories! :)|
But the saddest part is that these traditional textile-weaving and -dyeing techniques, handed down generationally, are in dire danger of disappearing as cheaper imports and mass manufactured fabrics replace them. Unless widescale efforts are made to revive the local hand woven/dyed textiles, this part of West African and broader African heritage will be tragically lost.
From the Safaris
Books n Stuff
Aminatta Forna (1964 - ) is a writer born in Glasgow, her parentage is mixed Sierra Leonean and Scottish, she was raised in Africa, Britain, Middle East and Far East. She has a degree in Law and has been a journalist before taking up writing books.
She has been nominated/awarded multiple times, and she was made an OBE in 2017. The Devil that Danced on Water is a memoir of conflict and political dissent in Sierra Leone, based on the life and death of her father Mohamed Forna, a former Minister of Finance, who was executed on charges of treason in 1975.
“…that's what grand horrors start with – tiny acts of betrayal."
Aminatta Forna, in an interview to Independent, in 2011.
She is also the author of three novels - The Hired Man, The Memory of Love, and Ancestor Stones. Her fiction deals with the themes of war, memory, and the clash between private narratives and formal official histories. She currently teaches at Bath University and is visiting faculty in US.
Femi Fatoba – (1939-2009) was a Nigerian poet, educated in London and Minnesota. He was a multifaceted talent, being an actor, dancer, drummer, painter and director, as well as a playwright and a poet. His first collection of poems was published in 1984. He passed away tragically in a road accident which also took the lives of three of his colleagues. He too is included in The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry. I leave you with this poem from it -
The highway runs too fast
For men to feel the ground underneath;
The mirage does not have time
To look like water;
And too many rainbows
Strangle the clouds.
Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018
Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018