African fabrics are cherished for their vibrant and often colorful patterns. These fabrics are as diverse as the Continent itself. There are many different types of African fabrics, including Mud cloth, Kuba cloth, Kente cloth, and Ankara prints, to name a few. Each has a different history and is used for various purposes.
While many African fabrics are still hand spun and dyed and created using other labor intensive processes passed down for generations, the popularity of these prints has also pushed production into the global market, making them more readily available and affordable to people around the world.
Here at Underwraps, we use Kente and Anakara prints. Their affordability, durability, and wash-ability make them wonderful fabrics to be used by babies and toddlers.
Kente Cloth, known for its sharp, geometric and panel-like designs, was first made by Asante and Ewe weavers centuries ago. Though originally produced mainly in black and white and worn primarily by royalty and for sacred occasions, Kente cloth is now associated with vibrant colors and worn on many occasions. Each color and pattern holds special significance. Take a look below to see the meaning behind the colors found in these beautifully designed prints (1,6).
- Black -- maturation, intensified spiritual energy
- Blue -- peacefulness, harmony and love
- Green -- vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
- Gold -- royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity
- Grey -- healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
- Maroon -- the color of mother earth; associated with healing
- Pink-- associated with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
- Purple -- associated with feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women
- Red -- political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites and death.
- Silver -- serenity, purity, joy; associated with the moon
- White -- purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions
- Yellow -- preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility
Ankara prints, also know as "wax prints" have an entirely different history and are created through a special dying process (called batik), rather than through a weaving process. The process of Batik traces back to the Egyptians, over 2,000 years ago. While the oldest records are found in Egypt, the process became popular in other parts of Africa and Indonesia as well.
The history of Ankara prints most utilized in African fashion today is particularly interesting. In the 19th century, Dutch and English manufacturers want to tap into the Indonesian fabric market by making cheaper, mass-produced versions of the traditional hand-dyed batik prints. Indonesian consumers rejected the prints in favor of their own authentically dyed prints. However, the machine-dyed prints found popularity in African markets. Thus, global manufacturers began producing Ankara wax prints for African sellers and consumers, who then made the prints their own by attributing names and stories to the prints. Today, African wax prints are manufactured across the globe, including Europe, China, and Ghana.
To read more about the history of African prints, check out these resources: