Bogolanfini Cloth

The Bamana people from Mali make this mud cloth with an unusual technique.

Starting with locally grown cotton which is then spun into yarn, which is then woven into narrow strips of cloth, when are then stitched together to make a larger canvas. The completed cloth is then washed and sun-dried so that it shrinks naturally before being dyed.

Two weavers in a market stall. Dogon people, village of Ende, Mali.

A preparation solution is made from the branches of two local trees, which is pounded and then soaked over-night. Different dyers may also add their own secret ingredients at this stage. The pre-shrunk cloth is then dipped into this solution, from which it emerges a bright yellow, after which it is left to sun-dry once more.

A special mud dye is made using mud taken from the bottom of dried-out ponds. The mud is left to ferment under several centimetres of water in a pot for a year before it is used for dyeing. While it ferments, the colour darkens from a light grey to an intense black. A small amount of this fermented mud is mixed with water and becomes the paint uses to create the patterns on the prepared cloth.

Using a range of flat spatulas made from bamboo or metal, the print designer sets to work, creating a design as she works. The main designs are outlined, then the background is painted to create the contrast, leaving the designs themselves blank. Once dry, the cloth is rinsed to remove excess mud, leaving two areas: the designs filled with yellow, against the black dyed background.

The patterns are mostly geometric or abstract versions of real-life objects, and often have names that are familiar to many adults.

To remove the yellow colour from the design, a bleaching mixture is made by boiling millet grains, caustic soda and ground peanuts into a paste. The designer then carefully traces over the yellow areas, and the cloth is once, again, left to dry in the sun. A week later, the cloth is rinsed, and the yellow areas become bleached white.

The cloths are traditionally worn by hunters and young women undergoing initiation. Prior to being more widely known in the 1970s, it used to be primarily worn by people in rural areas living traditional lives. It has since been transformed into a symbol of national Malian identity.

5 facts:

  1. Ornate patterns composed of different designs are made to commerorate a special event or a well-known person.
  2. The standard width for Bamana cloth is 12 inches.
  3. The weave on the undyed cloth is so loose that when washed, it can shrink by up to 20%.
  4. It may take two weeks to prepare and design a well-made piece of bogolan cloth.
  5. The active ingredient in the mud dye is iron oxide, which binds with the tannin in the tree bark to make the dye fast, and therefore long-lasting.
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