In the hands of Mother Africa lies the origin/inception of humanity. Africa, a unique artwork of ecosystems that make up a diverse cultural landscape. Africa is a complex social and historical entity where the fashion is just as deep and colorful as the continent itself. There are many histories in which traditions of a given locality have become engaged and intertwined with form and fabric introduced from elsewhere. Fashion has always been a global language; a medium by which Africa’s diversity chooses to speak to the world.
Contrary to popular belief, some of the world’s greatest empires originated in Africa. Therefore, it should be no surprise that a colorful world of fashion coincides with such a rich history. The evolution of African clothing is difficult to trace because of the lack of historical evidence. Every textile expresses the individuality of a place uniquely; taking the people on a journey through the fascinating history of the Motherland through the clothing of their ancestors. Here is a few of the textile works.
Adire Cloth: The original Tie & Dye
Adire textile is a resist-dyed cloth originating from the Yoruba people of southwest Nigeria. Scholarly opinions hold that the origin of Adire is unknown, but is believed to have been in production as early as the 12th century. Adire translates as tie and dye in the Yoruba language; the technique was first applied to indigo-dyed cloth decorated with resist-patterns. The symbols represented on the cloth created and standardized aspects of the people’s culture, drawn from history, legends, myths, proverbs, folklores, and deep observation of their environment.
The particular ethical/regional traditions of the Adire cloth were characterized by special weaving techniques. Motifs of Adire are taught by mothers to daughters within dyeing families from generation to generation. During the 20th century, local tastes began to prefer the Kampala technique; a multi-colored wax-resist cloth, which eventually signaled the decline of the Adire’s popularity. However, there has been a recent revival of the Adire art by Nigerian designers such as Maki-Oh and Doru Olowo.
Adinkra and Kente cloth: These are Royal wears from Ghana
The Ashanti Empire was a pre-colonial African state that emerged in the 17th century. The Ashanti are especially known for two types of cloth: printed Adinkra and woven Kente. The visual presentations printed on the fabrics represent various political messages communicated by colors, symbols, and how the fashion is worn. Adinkra means farewell and was originally worn during funeral ceremonies. Black designs were stamped onto black or russet colored fabric with particular colors used for mourning: Brown – Kuntukuni, Red – Kobene, Black – Brisi. The cloth, originally made from Cassava tubers, is now made out of Calabash rinds. The Adinkra fabric served initially as the exclusive property of the King or Asantehene. The cloth now worn by all is still constantly adapting to economic conditions and fashions.
The Kente cloth was worn on ceremonial and festive occasions during the mid-19th century. Kente is composed of narrow strips of hand weaved material sewn together to form a rectangle. The cloth, predominantly woven by men, is double-sided with the design wove into the cloth. Kente cloth was a way to identify a person’s origin and status. The colorful motifs are named and communicate messages to those who are able to read them: Gold – wealth, Yellow – vitality, Green – renewal, Blue – spiritual purity.
In Ancient times the royal family could only utilize gold colored Kente. However, to this day no Ashanti will wear the royal cloth in the Asantehene’s presence. The King is always expected to have the best collection of Kente and Adinkra in the world, from which to choose. The Asante and Ewe traditions create forms of Kente that are impossible to replicate. Awesome!
It is worthy to stress the importance and beauty of the fact that different colours bear different and significant meanings. Some of these colours are identified with the royal family and for specific occasions. This highlights the importance and reverence the African people accord to their royal leaders, giving honour to who honour is due.