Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Sacred and Ceremonial Textiles: Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Chicago, Illinois, 1996. (Minneapolis, 1997).


Copyright 1996 by the author.


The panel from which this paper stems united the theme of sacred or ceremonial textiles in Africa with that of the constitution of value. Here I address these issues as they relate to some uses of factory-printed textiles by the Baule of Cote d'Ivoire. The West Mrican nation of Cote d'Ivoire, which is approximately the size of Arizona, lies at a crossroads of cultures, bringing together people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Though not a numerical majority, those of Baule ethnicity are in many ways central within Cote d'Ivoire, tracing their heartland to the regional center of the country and dominating Ivoirian politics since independence in 1960. The wearing of factory prints at Baule funerals, and more broadly the association of particular motifs with Baule beliefs about death and mourning, is among the topics that is consistently identified as significant by Ivoirians of all ethnic origins in discussions concerning factory-printed textiles. However, before focusing on this topic it is important to first set the stage by briefly introducing the sorts of factory-printed textiles found in Cote d'Ivoire and the place they hold in contemporary Ivoirian society.1

There are two main types of factory-printed textiles in Cote d'Ivoire: factory-produced batik textiles, called 'wax,' and roller-printed textiles, called 'fancy.' Wax prints are made using a process that was developed by the Dutch in the mid-nineteenth century.2 In it a thin resin resist is rolled by machine in a repeating pattern onto cotton yardage. The yardage is then immersed in dye, coloring the areas free of resin. Subsequent colors are either applied in an overall pattern by roller or to specific areas by hand using felt-padded wood blocks. Blocking, which results in a characteristic overlapping and misalignment of color areas, increases the price of wax because it is both time and labor intensive.