Date of this Version
From Textiles in Trade: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium, September 14–16, 1990, Washington, DC
Textiles in Africa since some time have become a topic of research, much of which is focused on aspects of art. The at least equally important economic aspects (production, consumption, and trade) are still rather neglected.
When doing field research in West Africa it is impossible to overlook the fact that most of the textiles in use could not have been produced locally. This applies not only to the colorful printed cottons but as well to handmade textiles.
In Asante (Ghana) I found woolen fabrics, which obviously were hand-woven but must have come from somewhere else as sheep and goats in the forest zone have short hair, unsuitable for spinning. I saw such woolen textiles as floor covering in stoolhouses, as material on state umbrellas, nsaa kyinie. of which the most important one is katamanso, protecting the Golden Stool (and being a memorial for the lost battle of Katamanso,1826), as well as a lining of palanquins or covering of regalia like drums. For certain privileged persons can also be found as bed-covers such heavy blanket-like textiles. They are not only attributed protective but also healing properties. And are considered to be especially precious for this quality. To get even a tiny sample (Menzel 1973,2:760)of an already completely tattered blanket covering the bed of an old lady of rank needed much convincing. The blanket I found bundled up in a stall in Kumasi market in 1973 was completely out of context there, as such textiles were never offered for sale in the open. No information was to be had from the seller; Bernhard Gardi suggested that it Blight have been brought to Ghana by Wogo from Niger, in whose area such blankets were woven (fig.l).
My aged Asante informants were unanimous of the opinion that this woolen textile, which they all called nsaa, is the highest ranking of all traditional textiles in Ghana( which should read Asante, as they were giving information about Asante only). According to them, nsaa could only be acquired in esirim, the grasslands of the north (e.g. the Sahel). In Salaga they could be bartered by the representatives of the Asantehene for 40 headloads of each 2000 kola nutsor 5 healthy male slaves, or several ounces of gold dust (equivalent to about Ɛ8 Sterling). This was the rate of exchange in the “olden days” (before the turn of the century).Prices for more recent acquisitions they did not know. As almost all nsaa I was permitted to see or saw during ceremonies, were more or less threadoare, although they were treated with great care, I assume that supply has ceased even before tourists and the antique market began to take their share in this traditional trade. It would be interesting to know which textile will replace nsaa in its context of Asante culture if no replacements could be made for those worn away.