The trajectory of the birth of African Print History (Part 1)

Hello. I'm Hiromi Masaki, a member of RICCI EVERYDAY (directly managed store).

Do you know how colorful and diverse African prints were made and spread throughout Africa and around the world?

We will unravel the history of African prints, which are indispensable for attractive RICCI EVERYDAY products, in three parts: the first part, the second part, and the second part.

In this first part, we will introduce how to produce African prints, and then go back to the Age of Discovery and explore how African prints were made!


1. How did African cloth culture come about?
2. How are African prints made?
3. Did the African Print have its roots in Java?


1. How did African cloth culture come about?
African prints have a very diverse history of fabrics in different regions, such as West Africa and East Africa.
In East Africa, where Uganda is located, which is familiar to RICCI EVERYDAY, how was the history of cloth spun?

In East Africa, trade with the Arab world has been actively carried out since the 7th century, mainly in the coastal area of ​​Kenya and Mombasa. As a result, Swahili culture, which is a mixture of Bantu culture and Islamic culture, has been formed.

According to historical records, people in the East African region have already worn cotton cloth with jewels and gold decorations since the 15th and 16th centuries. Around the 19th century, the Zanzibar Archipelago became the center of Indian Ocean trade, and various cloths were traded from all over the world.

"Kanga" has evolved from such a background. Kanga is a piece of cotton cloth that has been developed in East Africa, and it is said that women in the coastal areas of East Africa sewed multiple handkerchiefs together and used them as wrapping clothes. The characteristic of Kanga is that the Swahili message "Jina" is written in the center of the cloth. People interacted by writing the lessons of life and the message of love on the cloth.

2. How are African prints made?
So how did the current African prints look like? African prints have completely different roots from the Kanga introduced at the beginning. First, let's check the production method, which is the basis for exploring the roots of African prints.

There are currently two categories of African prints, depending on the production method. The main categories are the traditional "wax print" and the "fancy fabric" that is currently in production. Generally speaking, African prints often refer to traditional wax prints.

First of all, wax prints are those that have been produced using traditional batik techniques. The batik technique, also known as "batik," is a dyeing method in which a pattern is drawn on a cloth with melted wax. Since the wax performs a resist dyeing function during dyeing, it is possible to create a pattern without dyeing only the part where the wax is applied, and it is also possible to intentionally dry the wax to create a crack pattern. In some cases, wax prints in Africa generally use a method of resist dyeing with resin instead of wax. In the dyeing process, the dropped wax remains in the shape of a ball, and white unevenness is likely to occur in some places on the ground color of the fabric, and the vivid design with many colors layered is attractive.

Fancy fabrics, on the other hand, are produced by digital printing techniques. Fancy fabrics are a relatively new method of printing on cotton fabrics that have become widespread since the independence of African countries and can be produced at a lower cost than wax prints. It is characterized by a light pattern with few colors, and many geometric patterns and lace patterns can be seen.

Wax prints feature many shades of color, while fancy fabrics typically have a simple shade of one or two colors. One of the features of the design is that it reflects the trends of the times compared to wax prints, and historically, with the spread to Western Europe, various and free designs have been emphasized. ..

3. Did the African Print have its roots in Java?
Why were these two production methods born? In particular, we will introduce the history, going back to the Age of Discovery, when the traditional African wax print was born.

The origin of the African wax print dates back to the colonial era of the 19th century. Do you know where the African Wax Print was born? In fact, it is said that it was not born on the African continent, but that the Netherlands brought in a traditional Indonesian dyeing method far away.

In the middle of the 17th century, the Netherlands expanded into South Africa and Southeast Asia through an East Indian company. In the process, the Netherlands focused on the batik technique of traditional craft chintz (commonly known as Java chintz), which was developed on the colonial island of Java in Indonesia, and developed a unique batik technique for the Netherlands.

It is said that the background of this movement was that the Netherlands aimed to contribute to industrial development by mechanizing and mass-producing Indonesian batik. However, this technology was not widespread in the batik market, and the Netherlands was looking for ways to use it in new markets. Meanwhile, exporting wax-dyed fabrics to the colonial West African countries quickly became popular and became a monopoly on the market as Dutch wax prints.

Thus, the African print was originally a product brought to Africa due to its colonial background.

How was it? While Kanga was formed by the development of trade in East Africa, the history of the colonies in West Africa was greatly involved in the birth of the current African print. In the next novella, I'll tell you how African prints have spread all over the world, so stay tuned!

Pan Fabric Official Website-History of African Fabrics-
・ "Cloth that claims Kanga" by Chieko Orimoto
African miscellaneous goods Azalai official website-African Print-
・ African Print-A cloth story born in Kyoto-by Seishi Namiki, Fumi Ueda, Mihoko Aoki
POLEPOLE KANGA SHOP official website

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