Overview of Bògòlanfini – Malian Traditional Mud Cloth

Bògòlanfini, also known as bogolan, is a traditional handmade Malian cotton textile that is typically dyed with fermented mud. In fact, the word “bògòlanfini” contains the “bogo” element, meaning “mud” or “earth”, and “fini”, meaning “cloth” in Bambara language. Even though this traditional Malian fabric is often translated as “mud cloth,” bògòlanfini is actually a clay slip that is high in iron level and generates a black pigment when used for hand-woven and handspun cotton textiles.

The production technique of this special cloth is attributed to some ethnic minorities in Mali, but the Bambara version is probably the most popular option for foreign travelers. The center of mudcloth manufacturing, as well as the source of the highest-quality cloth, is in the town of San, which is situated in the Segou region, Mali.

This African mud cloth plays a very important role in the culture of Mali, and it has recently become the national symbol of Malian cultural identity. Widely used in fine art, fashion, and decoration, bògòlanfini is being exported all over the world, especially to the United States, for its multi-purpose uses.

The use of bògòlanfini in Malian society

Traditional Use

In traditional culture of Mali, it is widely believed that mud cloth has the special power to absorb all dangerous forces in many circumstances. Therefore it is often worn by most hunters, serving as ritual protection, camouflage, ritual protection, and a status badge. What’s more, most Malian women are often covered in this traditional cloth immediately after a childbirth or after their beginning into adulthood, including genital cutting.
The patterns in bògòlanfini are diverse in cultural significance as they refer to many historical events in the country such as crocodiles (an important Bambaran mythology), famous battles between the French and Malian warriors, as well as other proverbs, mythological concepts, and objects. Since the 1980s, bògòlanfini has officially become the national symbol of Mali and has been promoting by the government.

Modern Use

These days, this traditional cloth is worn by many people from all ethnicities, notably by Malian musicians and in the cinemas, either as a fashion style or a demonstration of ethnic or national identity. It is quite surprising to know that bògòlanfini is especially popular amongst young people as it is designed with a wide variety of jackets, clothes, Western miniskirts, and traditional boubous (flowing robes).
Thanks to its unique patterns and exquisite features, bògòlanfini has increasingly become a popular export good to many countries all over the world. In these markets, it is often advertised as mud cloth, either as an ethnic decorative cloth or a symbol of the Malian culture.

Use in Fine Art

In addition to its use in the daily life, mudcloth is also served in fine art by some Malian artists. The most notable work is created by the Groupe Bogolan Kasobané, which includes 6 artists who have collaborated for nearly 40 years. Those paintings are often produced with mud and vegetable dyes but feature patterns unrelated to these of the traditional fabrics. Also, traditional mud-cloth designs are used on a variety of commercial products, including wrapping paper, book covers, sheets, towels, curtains, pillows and coffee mugs.

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