Ladies and Gentlemen – welcome to the end of the year. I can’t believe that we will be saying Merry Christmas and Happy New Year let alone getting used to writing 2019 very soon. Until then though, we have 2 months to finish strong and we hope that you all have a wonderful end to the year. We have had so much fun this year sharing our series’ on Luxury, Behind the Scenes, Photographers and Newcomers. If you have missed any of our stories – worry not, start with the editor’s notes in the links above and start your journey from there. We also have a surprise for you all so hang in there. Until that time – we have a new series to delve into to finish off this year of 2018.
Introducing “The Textile Series.” Have you ever wanted to actually know the names of the different textiles available on the continent other than using the blanket term “African Print” or simply “Kitenge”? Well, we have you covered. We want to look into the different meanings, historical and future significance of the different textiles available on the continent. Why is this important? The protection and embodiment of cultural heritage.
Let me take you back to 2012 in Timbuktu Mali, when a militant group linked to al-Qaida attacked 10 historic and religious monuments taking a huge part of history and cultural preservation. The International Criminal Court sentenced Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, an Islamic militant, to nine years for the destruction of artefacts in Timbuktu, Mali making this the first time that the court convicts someone of war crimes for the destruction of cultural heritage. The 1954 Hague Convention “for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” states that the Parties to the Convention consider that “the preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance for all people’ of the world and that it is important that this heritage should receive international protection.” Fun fact – Kenya is not a signatory to the Treaty but that is a discussion for another time.
Regardless, the importance accorded to cultural property, wherein the Hague Convention defines it as “movable or immovable property of great important to the cultural heritage of every people” would in fact include our textiles. Through this series, we believe that perhaps by understanding the different textiles on the continent we can first of all use the proper term to call them rather the blanket use of “African” and thereafter own the story and be a part of it rather than shun it.
We have probably heard this before either expressly stated or in passing where particular designs are defined as being “African” said with a tone that connotes below sub-par. We may have been tempted to fight off such negative statements but the reality is that we have long perceived our own as beneath us and these sentiments are deeply engrained in some.
We want that to change. We want people to start referring to designs as per country or by the specific nomenclature with a sense of pride rather than shame because whether we like it or not – it is a part of us, our history and our future. Traditional African culture and perhaps many others, utilised oral stories by the symbolic fireplace to share history, wisdom, proverbs and short stories that depicted our past cultural heritage that defines who we are and where we come from.
This can be seen in our very own textiles as well. From the Leso, we have those proverbs and sayings printed on the side of the material as a form of communication, storytelling and keeping our heritage close to us – literally. The Leso or Kanga is also intertwined into our everyday lives such as weddings where they are gifted to the family and used as our very own red carpet for the bride’s walk surrounded by song and dance.
What about the Maasai shuka? It also shares and tells another story, worn by the Maasai tribes as their pride and glory. It’s versatility in weather changes for this nomadic tribe lends itself as a staple in their lives. We may have grown accustomed to it from the Naivasha viewpoints on our road trips where can so easily buy them or more so as part of the quintessential Kenyan experience –Maasai Market. The shuka in itself is not simply plaid with different colours for the pleasure of the eye but rather carries with it tradition, belief, culture and historical significance. Let’s take for example the red colour, which is borderline considered a sacred colour for the Maasai community representing blood but also provides a protective mechanism against wild animals.
We wont jump into discussions of cultural appropriation (although we have here) but suffice it to say that in knowing and protecting our cultural heritage in our textiles –we can prevent potential theft like the Kikoy debacle wherein we nearly lost trademark to it when in 2006, the British Kikoy Company UK Ltd unsuccessfully attempted to register Kikoi as their trademark. Thank goodness.
We want to take you on an explorative textile journey of the continent from the Kente cloth in Ghana, the Faso dan Fani that symbolises cultural identity and national pride for the people of Burkina Faso to the Mud Cloth of Mali. We have a whole host for you to delve in these next two months. We will discuss and celebrate the infiltration of these different textures, moods, techniques into our societies, modern wear bringing us closer together and helping us to embody one another on the continent. Let’s recall Maxhosa from South Africa who has created a premium knitwear range that celebrates traditional Xhosa beadwork aesthetics (patterns, colors and symbolism) using South Africa mohair and wool, bringing culture into modernity whilst never forgetting where we come from. Read his whole article here.
Lastly, before we jump into the series, I thought I would give you a parting shot. Here is a fashion film by Adele Dejak to begin this cultural journey and identity to get you into the space for the next two months. Enjoy and have a great end to the year everyone. Let us know in the comments below if there is a textile that excites you and share your cultural experiences with us.
Author: Wanjiku N. M | Editor and Founder of TDS | Twitter: @WanjikuNM