All About The African Mud Cloth
The African Mud Cloth is a traditional cotton fabric with great cultural significance throughout Africa. Dyed with fermented mud and plant dyes, the ornately patterned fabric takes four days to a week to create, depending on weather conditions.
Once looked down upon as clothes for peasants, Mud cloth transcended its rural roots while still being attached to it and transformed into a cultural symbol in Africa.
Its traditional make, simplistic design, and cultural significance have penetrated the edges of the landlocked country of Mali - and have continued to influence designers all over the globe.
Painted using real mud, mud cloth has humble origins. Its origins are underpinned by a story of family, hope, survival, status, and a sense of community that strengthens Africans today.
Read as we dive deep into this cloth’s rich history, significance, and how the simplistic designs have become more complex over time - but without forgetting the traditions.
The origin of the Mud Cloth can be traced back to 12th century Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa. Traditionally, the hunters wore the Mud Cloth as ritual protection and as a badge of status, while the women wore the fabric as a wrapper immediately after childbirth as it is believed to have the power to absorb pain and deflect anything harmful or dangerous.
The fabric gets its name from a Mali ethnic word, “Bogolanfini.” Bogolanfini is made up of three words: Bogo, meaning “earth” or “mud,” lan, which means “with,” and fini, which translates to “cloth.”
Today, the durable, functional, and multi-faceted fabric is used in various ways, from fashion to stylish furniture upholstery and home décor, such as pillows or cushion covers, interior drapes, throws, runners, and wall hangings adorning personal homes and office spaces. The Mud Cloth remains a popular way to add texture and pattern to an outfit or a room.
THE MAKING OF THE AFRICAN MUD CLOTH
The Bambara people of Mali place so much cultural importance on the weaving and dying process of the Mudcloth. The cotton used for mud cloth is locally grown and of an undyed, yellowish-beige natural color.
Traditionally, thin strips of plain fabric are weaved into squares that are then stitched together. The final product is then dyed in a bath of leaves and branches, which is essential in the dying process. The purpose of the pre-bath in leaves and branches is to bind the dye to the fabric.
Traditional and Modern Methods to Make Mud Cloth
The traditional method included men weaving cotton fabric into small blocks. These blocks were stitched together and dyed in a bath of leaves and branches.
The cloth was then sun dried before a pattern was painted using a different shade of mud. Next, the undyed areas are treated with a bleaching agent to distinguish between the unpainted and painted regions and to give the fabric a crisp look. Finally, the clothes were left to dry under the sun for a week before being washed. And in the end, we got an immaculate white pattern with a dark background.
However, the modern method was borne out of the demand for more patterns and shades of mud. As a result, the latest paradigm became more versatile. First, it involves dying the cloth with different kinds of tree leaf solution. The designers then painted white and black patterns over the fabric.
This “modern” method still hasn’t forgotten the original, rural roots of the mud cloth, further highlighting the cultural significance of this illusive and simple fabric.
The designs on the mud cloth are used to represent social status, proverbs, or historical events.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MUD CLOTH PATTERNS
While this cloth’s rich and simple patterns accentuate modesty, the regional use of this fabric is different. Hunters have worn it to protect themselves and doubled as a badge of status. Women wrap themselves with Mud cloth soon after giving birth, believing the fabric will absorb negative feelings. And for the longest time, it has helped mothers deal with stress.
What makes mud cloth unique, however, isn’t only how it is made but also what the symbols represent. Every symbol is special, with varied, contextual meanings. But with years and the realization of the cultural significance behind this fabric, people deciphered some of them.
The current writing system came to Africa much later, and for a long time, people relied on ancient Meroitic, Tifinagh, Ge’ez, and others to express themselves. And for the common folk, music and art were the forms of communication.
Therefore, it can be said that these symbols could represent rhythm. But on the other hand, wavy patterns with different intensities can mean different things. Traditionally, the meaning of these symbols was revealed by mothers to their daughters. So, while we contemplate what hidden mysteries accentuate these simple patterns, the true meaning remains elusive.
Also, with time and love for the sheer aesthetic authenticity of mud cloth, people started to pay little mind to the meanings behind these symbols - although their novelty is still valuable.
Like the twirl symbol, it signifies life and has found its way into the designs of many renowned cloth manufacturers.
MUD CLOTH PATTERNS AND THEIR MEANINGS
This pattern represents the flower of the calabash.
This pattern represents the spindle.
This pattern represents good fortune.
This pattern depicts wealth and luxury.
This pattern depicts a bed of bamboo and millet leaves.
This pattern represents courage, bravery, & fearlessness.
Persisting for Centuries, The Allure of The Mud Cloth is Still Strong
Mud cloth has persisted for nearly a century and continues to stand against the headwinds of time with its simplistic-yet- breathtaking designs.
Every pattern has a story, every color is rooted deep in history, and every fabric has been sun-kissed for the vivid colors to set in properly.
We at Luangisa are on a mission to showcase to the world the rich African heritage through art and culture and the cloth that drapes across many of them – which is Mud cloth.
At Luangisa African Gallery, we offer several African Mud Cloth products handmade by Malian Artisans in a variety of colors including Indigo, Mustard, Brown, Multi Color, White, and Black.
To get your very own Mud Cloth product crafted in Mali, see our collection of Unique Mud Cloth textile, pilot covers, messenger bag, lampshade, blankets, wall art, etc at Luangisa.
Below are some pictures of our mud cloth products.