The True History of African Fabric
Here at Dar Leone, we focus on bringing you globally inspired textiles influenced by vintage West African designs. Therefore, we thought we should dive briefly into the history of African fabrics & textiles.
Given that native fabric from different African regions and countries have already been in existence for hundreds of years, it is just right to deduce that the African fabric history goes back much further than many of us assume it to. In fact, it is possible that the textile industry dates as far back as 5,000 BC when the ancient Egyptians started cultivating flax and using it to weave linen. To prove this point further, ancient pottery from Badari showed ancient depictions of a loom that were likely used by weavers at the time. Meanwhile, a 12th dynasty image seen at the tomb of Khnumhotep also showed weavers using a horizontal loom.
Furthermore, images from sculptures, hieroglyphs, and pyramids all depict the Egyptians to be fully clothed. Their Nubian neighbors in the south also had a significant textile industry, as depicted in images seen in the Meroë pyramids. Images of the great queen Amanishakheto and Pharaoh Piye also showed them in luxurious clothing.
Later on, as civilizations reached other parts of Africa, cotton became a more widely recognized and used fabric. Ibn Battuta, a known explorer, mentioned the presence of weavers in Timbuktu and Mali in the 1300s. Meanwhile, as Islam was introduced in West Africa, many started wearing what is known today as the boubou.
Africa’s Textile Industry in the Present
Today, Africa has a flourishing textile culture and it is something that can no longer be denied or revised. Bogolan, also known as mud cloth, is a hand-woven fabric originating from Mali. Meanwhile, Ghana’s national fabric Kente, comes in high-end varieties that are worn by royalties. Cameroon is also known for making cloth out of the bark of trees such as obom. Congo’s Kuba people, on the other hand, make some of the most beautiful hand-woven clothing, blankets, and sculptures. The Ndebele people of South Africa and Zimbabwe also have a rich tradition of making colorful and gorgeous blankets and quilts, all of which are handmade.