The Warm Embrace of Mud Cloth…

Soon, the seasons will change to a warmer climate which may prevent us from wearing our beautiful mud cloths. Although created in a place where the weather is typically warm, it can be difficult to indulge in the beauty of this Malian textile once the sun starts blazing. So, you may want to start taking your heavier pieces out for their final spins. In many states, you should be able to get through the Spring wearing bogolanfini and if so, go for it! Here are some of my favorite styles…

The artistry and aesthetic sophistication of African textiles and dress has been admired and appreciated by foreign observers since the time of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Navigators would travel to Zaire, Mali, the Kuba Kingdom, Kasai region, and the Kongo from overseas, returning home with cherished prizes of embroidered cloths and mud-dyed fabrics. Fast forward to 2014, what is the importance of these cloths today?

At the risk of greatly oversimplifying the extremely elaborate symbolism in African textiles, we have come to accept them as “ethnic” prints, sold to the masses strictly for profit. However, to the trained eye, a print is not good enough. I myself desire raffia cloths from Zaire. I dream of owning just a piece of a royal Ashanti kente cloth. I would travel far to acquire an aso oke, the ceremonial cloth of the Yoruba or any of the wax-printed cloths that adorned my ancestors. However, my most beloved choice of fabric is the bogolanfini, mud-dyed cloth of Mali; which translates from the Bamana as “mud cloth.”

I like the look of bogolanfini. I like its stiffness. I like how it compliments my tinted skin and I like its warm embrace. Mud cloth was originally decorated by women in the Bamana-speaking region of Mali, using a unique process that utilized dyes made from mud and leaves to produce light designs outlined with a dark background. In its local context, it remains to be a crucial garment worn to mark important lifecycle stages including birth, marriage, and death.

Today, numerous Malian’s as well as the Fulani and Dogon, have taken up the craft to produce simplified versions for tourists and the international market. But let us not forget, the genuine beauty and history of these fabrics. I am not an anthropologists or African art enthusiast looking to profit from this cultural artifact. I am simply a person who is aware of the greatness of my ancestors. I feel their royalty in everything that I do. I am empowered through them!

Read more about the bogolanfini, mud-dyed cloth of Mali…

The Kush Queen, 2/5/2014

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