Bogolan or Mud Cloth

Bogolan (Bogolanfini) or Mud Cloth is like e.q. Kuba Cloth one of the very few fabrics which is still completely made by hand.

Bogolan is a fabric originating in Mali, West Africa. The cotton is often raised on small, family farms, using very simple and labor intensive methods. After being picked and cleaned, it is spun into rough yarns. The color of the fabric before decorating is cream. The fibers are woven into 10-15cm wide strips. Traditionally, the men of the village do the weave work. They use hand looms which is very time-consuming. After the weaving, the strips are sewn together.

Before decorating, the cloth is soaked in a tea from the N’Galaman or N’Tjankara tree, or occasionally other types. This stain acts like a fixative for the colors to come and may give the fabric a tan background shade. It’s also where the term of Bogolan originated. Now prior to this, dyes from boiling, mashing, and fermenting of various roots, leaves, flowers, stems, fruits, and seeds, are mixed with mud and allowed to age, often for up to a year, until they reach the correct colors. Traditionally, this is done by the women of the village. If the color white/cream is required, these areas may need extra attention to re-bleach with a soda. The entire process can take weeks for each item to finish. All patterns and colors on Mud Cloth have a meaning. Often they are not the same across various areas.

Bogolan were traditionally worn by hunters, pregnant or menstruating women or anyone in danger of losing blood. They are protective cloths, keeping away threatening evil spirits, who are meant to be confused by the meandering patterns or the close weave of the fabric and are thus unable to penetrate the wearer’s body.