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The textiles of African American people can be traced back to four civilizations of Central and West Africa: the Mande-speaking peoples (in the modern countries of Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Burkino Faso); the Yoruba and Fon peoples (in the Republic of Benin and Nigeria); the Ejagham peoples (in Nigeria and Cameroons); and the Kongo peoples (in Zaire and Angola). Slaves as well as their textiles, were traded heavily throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and the Southern United States. Thus the traditions of each distinct region started to mix.

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Textiles in Africa, were made by men. When slaves were brought to the United States their work was divided according to Western patriarchal standards and women took over the tradition. However, this strong tradition of weaving left a visible mark on African American quilting.

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African textiles are often used for social and political comment, for commemorative purposes marking special occasions like political or tribal events, weddings, funerals, burials, naming ceremonies. Historically, their usage was controlled by chiefs and regional leaders and they were distributed with favor.

As personal adornment they are wrapped as skirts round waists and hips and thrown over the shoulder or made into tunics and robes. African textiles are not always worn but sometimes used as backdrops against which public ceremonies were held.

Tribal textile art

The following have been identified as some of the more well-known tribal African textiles.

  • Adire, indigo cloth from the Yoruba of SW Nigeria
  • Andinkra, stamp printed cloth from the Asante of Ghana
  • Asafo, appliqued flags from the Fante of Ghana
  • Aso-Oke, woven strip cloth from the Yoruba of Nigeria
  • Bark cloth, painted from the Buganda of Uganda
  • Bogolan, mud cloth from the Bamana (Mande) of Mali
  • Dida, raffia cloth from the Dida of the Ivory Coast
  • Fila, dye-painted cloth from the Senufo of the Ivory Coast
  • Kaasa, woollen blanket from the Fulani of Niger Delta, Mali
  • Kente, woven appliqued cloth from the Asante and Ewe of Ghana
  • Kuba, shoowa cloth from the Kuba of the DRC, (Zaire)
  • Ndop, resist dyed indigo cloth from the Bamileke of Cameroon

Gee’s Bend Quilters

Photos taken by Dianne Smith



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