African majesty: Vlisco, the Dutch textile giant, controls what most Africans wear, but traditional weaving is not dead yet.

Author:Mbakwe, Tom
Position:Culture: Textiles in Africa - Brief Article

Across Africa, there has existed, since time immemorial, a tradition of textile weaving which was only suppressed or pushed into the background when Western methods of textile production took over the continent. Now traditional weaving is on the up again, thanks to the "discovery" in recent years of the Kente cloth by Black America.

For example, within the borders of present-day Ghana and Togo, there has existed a tradition of sophisticated weaving inspired by the demands of Asante and Ewe royalty and ceremony, or of the wealthy for rich display.

As Peter Adler and Nicholas Barnard testify in their beautifully produced book about Kente weaving, African Majesty (Thames and Hudson, 1992), for centuries, the Asante and Ewe people have created clothes that combine colour and pattern to fabulous effect.

"So important," they write, were these masterpieces of textile art -- worn like the togas of ancient Rome -- that at one time costly foreign silks were imported, only to be unravelled for weaving afresh."

The British Museum, never to be undone, has just published another fantastic book dedicated to African textiles, called Silk in Africa. Enchanted by the colours and the sophisticated weaving, the authors, Chris Spring and Julie Hudson, admit their surprise (or is it ignorance?) at the "spectacular" African handiwork.

"The rich and diverse range of silk textiles from Africa is an unexpected revelation," they say. Unexpected? And the tradition of weaving in Africa has been going on for centuries?

Spring and Hudson go on to tell their readers about the "spectacular collection" the British Museum has of silk weaving and embroidery from throughout Africa. "These range from textiles commissioned by...

To continue reading