Friday, 6 April 2018

F is for Fabrics...and Facts...and the twisting thereof...


is for

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.
 
I made those patches into a bedspread as a keepsake.
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 -

In America
        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

20 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    Oh you must know I am grinning with the memories, Nilanajana! Going to the markets and searching all the beautiful fabrics. Yes, the home-made clothes; my mother was an excellent seamstress, but in Nigeria, she was taken with the affordability of having clothes made by ladies at stalls and she was a great believer in supporting the local economy, so the great novelty was to have a new kaftan each month! Another evocative post!! YAM xx

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    1. My mum, and my friends', just went to town with the stuff available - not just the fabrics but the laces and ribbons and whatnot. They had a real good time designing and sewing - we all were major beneficiaries of their skills!

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  2. 1. i loved your uniform
    2. i agree that traditional form of clothes dying is disappearing all over the world and its a sad state

    Tongue Twister for F

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    1. Ya, the handloom stuff disappearing is really tragic imo - irreplaceable skills and art.

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  3. 👍 I can't find a "like" button on blogspot similar to the one we have on wordpress, but I am happy to see that the emojis appear to work, hehe. I love the poem by Femi Fatoba.

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    1. Thank you for the thumbs up!! The poem's really neat isn't it?

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  4. The African exhibit of the British Museum had a huge section on fabrics and fabric arts when I was there. It was gorgeous!

    The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

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    1. The only issue I have with the Brit Museum is that it takes about a month to get around properly :) ...have never had that kind of time there...I can totally imagine how gorgeous that exhibition must have been.

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  5. It's such a shame the traditional techniques are in dangers of disappearing. Hopefully a brave few will make sure they endure so they can be "rediscovered" at some point. Great music today :)
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings - Movie Monsters

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    1. The thing with traditional arts/crafts is that they don't pay enough anymore for the artisans to make a living - so the sons/daughters move away to other professions...I do hope they'll be rediscovered and preserved, like you said...

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  6. Today F is for fabulous - I loved reading about the fabrics and their history (and yours with them as well). It's heart-breaking traditional arts are so endangered.

    I also loved the Fatoba poem, and I'm grateful for the introduction to him. I look forward to reading more of his work.

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    1. The fabrics are cool and they haven't faded in all these years. It would be a serious tragedy if the handlooms disappeared.

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  7. I love fabric, though I'd take forever to make any clothes, since I do everything by hand. I never got the hang of the sewing machine. It's really sad to hear about traditional fabrics becoming displaced by foreign imports.

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    1. I am totally useless at a sewing machine, whatever sewing I did was by hand, so my efforts were limited to aprons and tablecloths mostly and real tiny baby dresses :)

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  8. I remember when "African print fabrics" became available in the US during the 1970. For awhile I worked at a clothing factory and we made clothes using the fabric. I remember before it became available, going to fabric stores trying to find something that would look right in traditional African clothing for different events. Love the song, love the poem. The second song won't play in this country - USA it says. I could do a post on the memories this post brings, but I will leave it here.
    http://findingeliza.com/

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    1. That happens to me with annoying frequency...video blocked/not available in your country...for some baffling reason not made public...I so wish I could find African prints where I am, but haven't seen them.

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  9. It is sad that traditional works are in danger of disappearing around the globe. A master weaver in a small town here cannot find anyone in his extended family who is interested in learning the trade. He knows that when he passes, the generations long family tradition ends. Love your descriptions!!
    Emily In Ecuador

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    1. Ya, that is something I feel quite anguished about - traditional handmade things being rapidly lost in the relentless surge of mass-produced ecologically disastrous rubbish lining large corporate pockets

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  10. I am so glad to find this post. It didn't appear in my reader and I worried.
    I too grew up having most of my clothes made/created by my mother. And mourn that handicrafts including textiles seem to be disappearing the world over.

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    1. Mourn is just the right word, EC it's an irreparable loss.

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