March 10, 2014
#Culture #AfricanStory | Proverbial Communicative Power of African Fabric in Anyi culture

Depending on which part of Africa you live, you've heard "Pagne", "Ankara", "Wax", or "Leso". All these names broadly refer to African fabrics, known for their bold colors and eccentric graphics. African fabrics may have been worn for simple fashion preferences but they also have important communicative values. This communication aspect is also intrinsic to the understanding of gender roles in Africa. Women are attracted by the fabric because it allows them to communicate in public without using words, as some cultures ban women from talking in the open. The text and/or symbols printed on the fabric expresse a lot of things. Through its semiotic, the African fabric reveals a wide array of meanings related to women, myths, proverbs, folk tales, and people's beliefs. In her book Wearing proverbs: Anyi names for printed factory cloth, Susan Domowitz narrated a true tale of the communicative impact of African fabric in the Anyi ethnic group in Cote d'Ivoire


After divorcing his first wife, this man began seeing another woman. He noticed that she often wore a cloth in which the wild spider figured in the design (Fig. 4), and suspected that she was trying to say something to him. Then he remembered a proverb that says, "What one does to cendaa (a small harmless spider), one does not do to bokohulu (a large spider considered dangerous)." The man interpreted this to mean that he should not mistreat this woman as she supposed he had mistreated his first wife. At this point in his story I asked him if he knew there was a cloth with this specific proverb name. He replied, "No . . . but I knew that pagnes [cloths] have their names." His familiarity with this popular proverb prompted him to ask the woman what she was trying to say, and she confirmed that the message of that very proverb was indeed intended for him.

Image: Domowitz

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