Saturday, May 8, 2021

Woolen Stripweaves of the Niger Bend

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

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For your convenience I have listed below other posts in this series:
Diversity of African Textiles
African Textiles: West Africa
Stripweaves (West Africa) - Part I
Stripweaves (West Africa) - Part II
Stripweaves (West Africa) - Part III

Woolen Stripweaves of the Niger Bend[1]
Apart from the area around Cape Verde, the only region in West Africa with climatic conditions suitable for rearing sheep is the Niger Bend. It is cool and has enough pasture (from the flooding of the Niger).

Blanket "Mumuye" from the Fulani people of the Niger Bend region, Mali and Niger.

Woven with white sheep's wool on a horizontal strip loom, they are made up of four to six panels, each approximately 15 cm (6 inches) wide, sewn selvedge to selvedge. Each strip has supplementary weft decoration, with motifs influenced by North Africa. The Fulani name all different motifs. The designs on the upper and lower borders symbolize water and fertility, while the central motif represents the paths taken by the Fulani herds. The strips are sown together so that the 'Moorish' motifs join up to form lateral bands of pattern.

Part of an old arkilla kerka woolen cover woven by the Fulani for the Tuareg.

Itinerant Fulani weavers travel to Tuareg encampments to weave very large chequered tent dividers or bed covers known by such names as arkilla jengo and arkilla kerka. Like khaasa, the warp is made of cotton and the weft of wool. The combined thickness gives not only warmth at night but also protection from the abundant and troublesome mosquitoes. Arkilla are bought by rich Fulani, marabouts (holy men), nomadic Tuareg and Moors.

Arkilla kerka, a very long wool and cotton cover woven and used by the Fulani to divide off the place for the bridal bed from the reception area in their dwellings.

A man selling khaasa Fulani woolen blanket by the river Niger.

Sheep are shorn by Fulbe (noble-caste) Fulani shepards. The wool is spun by women and given to Maabube (lower-caste) Fulani weavers, who weave it into khaasa strips. Sewing together the strips and finishing are tasks carried out by the Fulbe. The same process takes place when the Maabube weave for the Tuareg, though the wool is Tuareg.

Khaasa Fulani woolen blanket, Mopti, Mali. Berber weavers in southern Algeria weave very similar textiles, which may be a model for the khaasa or an export-driven imitation.

According to the acknowledged expert on the subject, Dr Pascal James Imperato, Fulani looms are made up of twelve pieces of wood. Four are driven vertically into the ground. The cotton warps are tied around a stone drag weight on a wooden or metal sledge. From the anchor, the warp passes over a beam and down through two foot-operated string heddles, which are hung from a wooden pully assembly through a reed-beater and end around a cloth beam.

Arkilla munga wedding blanket woven by the Fulani for the Tuareg.

[1] J. Gillow, African Textiles, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London (2003).