Bògòlanfini: The Mud Cloth

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Ever heard of mud cloth and been confused as to what it was? Well we’re here to clear up your confusion. Mud cloth, also known as bògòlanfini, is a Malian cotton fabric dyed traditionally with fermented mud. In order to make the cloth traditionally, men would weave it and women would dye it. The cloth was first dyed in baths of leaves. Once yellowed, it would be sun-dried and intricate designs would be painted on it using a special clay from river beds. The yellow dye was then removed using bleach creating the characteristic white pattern on a dark background.

In traditional Malian culture, it plays an important role; protecting hunters by camouflaging them and absorbing the dangerous forces surrounding women after childbirth by wrapping them in its safety. Bògòlanfini patterns are rich in culture, depicting historical events, mythological tales and proverbs. Some of the patterns were usually abstract or semi-abstract representations of everyday objects. Young women gained an understanding of visual language by learning from their mothers, their intelligence meant that they could articulate messages or songs through their paintings.

Malian fashion designer Chris Seydou is credited with bringing bògòlanfini onto the international stage. Growing up in a creative household, his mother was an embroider and he got his start by apprenticing in tailor shops at 16. Seydou designed his first collection at 26 using bògòlanfini fabrics and it quickly caught the attention of people around the world due to his pioneering combination of Western style silhouettes with traditional African patterns and fabrics that he then marketed to Europeans, Americans and urban West Africans.

Since the 80’s, the cloth has become a symbol of the cultural identity of Mali both at home and abroad, particularly in America. Over there, it is known as mud cloth and seen as  representative of African American culture.
Smart Tip: If you’re looking to source high quality and authentic bògòlanfini, make sure it comes from the city of San.

2 comments

  • Posted on by Muriel Speed

    I love this as a African American who yearning for all knowledge of my ancestors this was Informative and the pattern is my favorite!

  • Posted on by Jidyll

    I really enjoyed this article. I am Caribbean of African descent. We traced our maternal ancestry back to the Songhai people of Mali. In researching Mali I came across this fabric. I have a few pieces of clothes in it It’s special to me as it’s the closest I have come to owning something my ancestors likely used
    Your information about its various uses was pleasantly interesting

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