Exploring Motifs: Bogolanfini

So far I have studied pattern motifs from France and Austria, this week I left Europe for Africa to learn about the ancient Bogolanfini patterns of Mali. The Bogolanfini have been created using iron rich mud as dye since around 1200-1400 CE.

These beautiful garments are full of tradition and encrypted meaning. 

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Bògòlanfini is from the Bamana language of Mali: bogo, means earth or mud; lan, meaning with; and fini, for cloth.

The process begins with the Bamana men weaving cotton into long strips called finimugu. The strips are then sewn together to be made into shirts or robes. Dying the fabric has traditionally been done by women. They begin by soaking the cloth in a mixture of leaves which turns the cloth yellow, and assists in absorbing the mud dye into the cloth. Once the cloth is dry, a fermented mud mixture is applied as the background of the design using a flat edged wooden tool, or metal spatula. The yellow areas that are left are then bleached white with a caustic soda. 

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I wanted to try the technique of painting the background / negative space first, while leaving the shapes to be filled in later. It definitely required focus to keep the repeating shapes consistent. I used a flat edged craft stick and tempera paint, the closest I could get to the materials used by the Bamana. It is by no means a masterpiece, but I loved learning a new way of painting. 
The patterns used in the Bogolanfini have great significance to the Bamana people and the cloths are often worn during important life events. The motifs have names, they tell stories, and teach local history. Some are even thought to ward off evil spirits. The motifs, as well as the dying process, are passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. 


When creating my vector version of a mud cloth it was important to me to come up with my own symbology. I wanted the design to be personal to me, so I created symbols that represent places I’ve lived and people I love. The section on the bottom, for example, represents the Ravenel bridge in Charleston, South Carolina were we used to live. This is one of the most personal patterns I have created, I can’t wait to have it printed! 

Bogolanfini inspired design by dear chickie available on Redbubble and Spoonflower.


If you are interested in learning more about Bogolanfini, here is a list of sources I used for this article:

  • The Smithsonian has a fun site which allows you to virtually make your own mud cloth while learning about the process. 
  • Here is a little info about how these cloths are used from an exhibition put on by Suny Cortland in 2011.
  • I love this idea from Kid World Citizen for a fun teaching activity about the process.
  • This is a lesson plan which has some great information and more links.
  • Here and here.




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