Feature On: Textile Art in Africa
In honor of my trip to Africa this week, this Feature On post highlights the traditional art of weaving cloth. For those of you who are new here or who just aren’t familiar with Life’s Journey Travel’s Feature On series, posts in this collection are part of a roughly monthly series that delves into art forms in a different region or country around the world. This edition is all about textile art in Africa, and specifically that Ghana and Nigeria.
Cultures around the world use certain cloths in specific colors or patterns on special occasions and to distinguish the wearer from the crowd in some way. In this respect, textile art in many countries of Africa is no different, but what is unique is how it remains prevalent in societies today as a way to convey traditional meanings as well as connect wearers to the past.
Aside from the practical use of textiles as protection from the elements, these cloths are used in two main ways: for communication and remembrance. The colors, prints, and even the types of threads themselves all convey meaning about the status of the wearer, such as whether they are an important member of the community, part of a certain family, married or unmarried. Some garments are reserved for ceremonial purposes, like tribal celebrations of marriage, burials, or naming ceremonies.
In Ghana, some people still use their traditional looms to weave cloth from cotton and raffia, a common palm tree. Kente is one of the more popular materials and it comes in hundreds of patterns, all with a different meaning. Each color means something different as well. Blue means love, purple is healing, green is growth, and so on. Because the patterns and colors mean something new when combined, there are endless possibilities.
Some Nigerian textiles are among the more well-known African clothing in the Western world. One such garment is the dashiki, a colorful cotton shirt with embroidery and a V-neckline that can be worn by men and women. This article of clothing originated with the Yoruba people, who can be found in both Nigeria and parts of modern-day Benin. While this tunic was and still is a mostly functional garment in the place it originated, it has become a politically charged symbol in other parts of the world, where it is worn as an indicator of black pride.
That something as simple as cloth can have so many disparate meanings goes to show how complex culture can be, both in the past and as it continues to evolve in the present. Traveling is just one of the many ways we can learn more about the rich cultural tapestries around the world, but it happens to be one of the best. Have an idea for a cultural immersion kind of vacation? Schedule a consultation today.
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Author: Debra Harris
As founder of Life’s Journey Travel, I’m deeply passionate about creating custom travel experiences that allow my clients to truly savor the journey.