Mali Mud Cloth

Mali mud cloth seems to be appearing in "boho" and Scandinavian design schemes all over western societies these days and we are not surprised. With its bold geometric patterns, monochromatic and warm colour tones this unique handmade fabric is sure to appeal to most. Whats more it has a fascinating history...

Origin and production

Bògòlanfini or bogolan (Bambara: bɔgɔlanfini; "mud cloth") is a handmade Malian cotton fabric traditionally dyed with fermented mud. It has an important place in traditional Malian culture and has, more recently, become a symbol of Malian cultural identity.

The dye technique is associated with several Malian ethnic groups, but the Bambaran version has become best known outside Mali. In the Bambara language the word bògòlanfini is a composite of bɔgɔ, meaning "earth" or "mud"; lan, meaning "with" or "by means of"; and fini, meaning "cloth". Although usually translated as "mud cloth," bogolan actually refers to a clay slip with a high iron content that produces a black pigment when applied to handspun and handwoven cotton textiles.

Tradidionally men weave the cloth and women dye it. The dyeing begins with a step invisible in the finished product, the cloth is soaked in a dye bath made from leaves of the n'gallama (Anogeissus leiocarpa) tree that have been mashed and boiled, or soaked. Now yellow, the cloth is sun-dried, then painted with designs using a piece of metal or wood. The paint, carefully and repeatedly applied to outline the intricate motifs, is a special mud, collected from riverbeds and fermented for up to a year in a clay jar. Because of a chemical reaction between the mud and the dyed cloth, the brown color remains after the mud is washed off. Finally, the yellow dye is removed from the unpainted parts of the cloth by applying soap or bleach, the cloth is left to dry in the sun for a week. When the bleach solution is washed off with water what remains is the characteristic white pattern on a dark background.

Cultural significance...

In traditional Malian culture, mud cloth is worn by hunters and serves as camouflage, ritual protection and a badge of status. Women are wrapped in the mud cloth after their initiation into adulthood and immediately after childbirth, as the cloth is believed to have the power to absorb the dangerous forces released under such circumstances.

Mud cloth patterns are rich in cultural significance, referring to historical events (such as a famous battle between a Malian warrior and the French), crocodiles or other objects, mythological concepts or proverbs. 

Symbolism (the best bit)..

Many fabrics produced in West Africa come with many symbolic designs that tell a story. The symbols and the way in which they are arranged reveal a variety of different secrets. Social status, a persons character or occupation, the history of a village can all be portrayed on a piece of mud cloth. Some pieces of mud cloth portray African proverbs or histories of African communities. Even now in Africa people are careful with what they wear as they believe each colour and symbol has a meaning. 



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