Mud cloth – Bogolan by Sarah Corbett

Mud cloth is a type of fabric which is made by the Bamana peoples of Mali in West Africa. The cotton fabric is woven in strips by men and is subsequently dyed by the women using an iron rich clay slip which is collected from riverbeds and fermented.

Jars of Bogolan (fermented slip) are stored for a year before use.

The looms used to weave the cloth are narrow and produce strips of around 15 cm wide. These are cut into 1.5 metre lengths and sewn together to make cloth which would traditionally make clothing for both men and women.

The cloth is pre washed and dried and then submerged in a bath of dye which is made by crushing the leaves of two trees. The n’gallama tree and the n’t’jankara tree. The dye produced from the leaves of these two trees is yellow. Once dyed yellow the cloth is again sun dried.

The next stage of the production is the application of the fermented mud, application is done with a piece of Bamboo or a metal rod. A chemical reaction takes place between the dyed cloth and the mud, leaving a dark brown stain. The remaining yellow areas are then treated with a mixture of ground peanuts, water, caustic soda and millet bran, to ‘bleach’ them. The cloth is left in the sun for a week before the solution is washed off.

The process takes several weeks to complete and to achieve the finished cloth.

Mud cloth was traditionally worn by hunters, and served as camouflage. It was also an indicator of status and a form of perceived protection.

Mud cloth was also used to wrap around women following genital cutting and childbirth, to absorb the perceived dangers surrounding these events. The textile would also serve as her burial shroud.

The geometric stylised designs represent objects and animals from the natural world.

Deliberate errors within a design are believed to be coded messages.

There is now a strong export trade in newly produced Mud cloth, which is used within fashion and interior design.

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