The Ethnographic Museum of Hanoi

23 August 2013

When you think of Vietnam, you cannot imagine that if the majority of Vietnamese people belong to the Kinh ethnic group, fifty-three other ethnic minorities live in the country from North to South.

In order to understand a little more clearly this cultural diversity, a visit to the Hanoi Museum of Ethnography is recommended. This place has nothing to envy the famous Quai Branly Museum in Paris. We find there, presented in the most beautiful way, priceless artefacts and stories of all these unknown heritage communities. You could spend hours discovering the funeral rites or wedding ceremonies and everything that constitutes the distinctive ethnographic signs of these ethnic groups.

The exhibition of this variety of ethnic crafts features in its collections a large choice of traditional textiles and costumes. Thanks to a very didactic and interactive display, with photographs, scenography, video and audio tapes, you immerse yourself in collections of remarkable sacred or everyday’s objects and antiquities.

Each ethnic group has its own language, traditions, costumes and skills. The visit to the Museum helps to understand their differences and similarities. A Flower Hmong woman does not dress up in the same way as a Red Dao, a Lo Lo or a Thai woman. Mothers and daughters are sharing their knowledge in natural dyeing, hemp or cotton spinning, embroidery stitching, weaving, patterns drawing with various symbols… It has been a great preparation for my departure to the North-West mountains, towards Sapa, land of Hmong, Red Dao people and many other ethnies.

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Hanoi, Vietnam

Bogolan, African mud cloth

22 August 2013


In Ouagadougou, I have met with Zakaria and spent a second day with him to find out what the bogolan is.

Bogolan literally means “done from mud”, “bogo” in the Bambara language meaning “earth”, or “clay” and “lan” meaning “derived from”.
This fabric which requires such a specific dyeing technic has been used for hundreds of years in West Africa. It is found mainly in Mali and Burkina Faso. Since the 80s, bogolan has been enjoying a growing success in the modern African clothing, used for loincloths for women or tunics for men. It is also used for home decoration, as a blanket or a wall hanging. It is still very much worn by the Dogon, Bobo, Senufo or Bambara ethnic tribes, each one of them developping their own style and patterns.

Bogolan is always a more or less thick cotton fabric. Traditionally, it is composed of narrow hand-woven pieces on narrow looms and then all sewn together.

The most striking are the colors and harmonies so particular and recognizable: yellow ocher, brown, black, white, with sometimes red touches. An apparent simplicity of neutral tones, earthy and mineral. Zakaria has shown me how to get the main color, the yellow ocher, obtained from a concoction of the African birch leaves (n’galama). The more you deep dive the fabric into the dyeing, the more the color gets saturated and deep. The fabric is then dried in the sun to fix the color.

Then you use the fermented clay taken straight from the jars burried in the ground and you apply it to the fabric with a brush or a pen, by hand or through a stencil. The fermented mud in contact with the ocher base will then chemically react while drying up to give after rinsing a very dense and indelible black color. While traditional bogolans are usually in a two tone contrast playing on yellow and black, it is possible to add white touches by a bleaching process, using a mixture of chlorine, shea and soap; dark red touches can also be obtained through the a concoction of the African grapetree barks (n’pecou), and brown touches by using a locust-tree leaves dyeing.

Contemporary bogolans have lost most of their symbolic meaning and authenticity to become purely decorative graphics textiles. Originally, each drawing had a meaning. It was inspired by nature, daily life in Africa… Each piece was designed for a specific ritual purpose like wedding or hunting ceremonies.

Coloring and drawing with the help of sun, water, clay and plants to create fabrics with endless decorative possibilities, that’s what bogolan is. When you find out how bogolans are made, you then better understand their inner strength and depth of their colors. By touching them, you get a glimpse of something vital, fed by the earth and the light of Africa.

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Zakaria and the colors of Sahel

29 May 2013

In Ouagadougou, the craft company Couleurs du Sahel produces original fabrics and cotton linen, in the spirit of Faso Dan Fani, the typical Burkinabe cotton loincloth, and bogolan, a printing and dyeing technique from Mali.

Zakaria, its founder, is committed in a friendly production environment on the whole chain, from the choice of organic cotton to yarn dyeing by natural pigments, and finally the weaving process on hand looms .

The day I met him, he was wearing a shirt cut in a fabric from his workshop, a beautiful cotton canvas in a very refined gray-green color. This affable and passionate man is availing himself from the traditional Burkina Faso textile crafts.

He gently shared his knowledge with me and showed me the different plants and leaves used for their natural pigments, usually by decoction. This way I discovered which vegetation grows around Ouagadougou city and which color it can give: African tree peels (called n’pecou) which gives an orange-reddish color, African birch leaves (called n’Galama) give bright yellow, the locust bean gives brown and finally indigo leaves give a deep blue color. Basing his knowledge on botanical books, Zakaria constantly keeps developing new colors by new dyeing tests.

His cotton comes from Burkina Faso. This “white gold” as we call it, is one of the main resources of the country and is a great success for export. And organic cotton has become a very promising industry. There are still some difficulties to keep a steady supply. Yarn stocks are sometimes scarce and it can be difficult to fill orders when the required due time is very short.

Couleurs du Sahel has joined a cooperative of twelve workshops all in the textile industry, in order to get more leverage in the cotton orders and to promote the development of their business.

Zakaria proudly wears Burkina Faso’s identity, showing a great example between tradition and modernity, and defending an artisanal quality production, self-sufficient and resourceful, based on natural resources of the country.

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