Textile of Africa | African Textiles | 13 popular fabrics !

African textile

African textiles are a vibrant and integral part of the continent’s cultural heritage, reflecting its rich history and artistry. From ancient times to the present day, these textiles tell stories of communities, traditions, and innovation.

Since the 14th century, textiles have played a crucial role in African societies, even being used as currency in West and Central Africa. This practice underscores the value and significance of textiles beyond their practical uses, emphasizing their role in trade and economic systems.

History of African Textiles

The history of African textiles dates back thousands of years. Some of the oldest African textiles were discovered at Kissi in northern Burkina Faso, made from wool or fine animal hair with dried skin for strength. These ancient fabrics showcase the early development of textile production on the continent. Additionally, pieces from the 13th century were found in Benin City, Nigeria, highlighting the long-standing tradition of textile craftsmanship in West Africa.

Traditional African Fabrics

African textiles are diverse, with each region and ethnic group having its own unique styles and techniques. Here is a summary of some prominent textile techniques and materials used in different African regions and countries:

  • Aso Oke Fabric: Woven by the Yoruba people of Nigeria, known for its intricate designs and durability. This fabric is often used for special occasions and ceremonies.
  • Adire: A tie-dye fabric produced by the Yoruba, famous for its unique patterns created using resist-dyeing techniques.
  • Souban Cloth: Woven by the Zarma people, known for its traditional craftsmanship and often used in daily wear and ceremonial attire.
  • Ankara (African Wax Prints): Popular across the continent, known for its vibrant and bold patterns. These fabrics are produced using wax-resist dyeing techniques and are widely used in contemporary fashion.
  • Bazin: A glossy fabric produced in Mali, often used for traditional attire such as boubous and other ceremonial garments.
  • Akwete Cloth: Woven by the Igbo people of Nigeria, featuring complex patterns and motifs. This fabric is traditionally made by women using vertical looms.
  • Barkcloth: Made by the Buganda tribe in Uganda, crafted from the bark of trees. This ancient fabric is one of the oldest known textiles and is used in various cultural and ceremonial contexts.
  • Chitenge and Kitenge: Produced in Zambia and Tanzania, these fabrics are colorful and feature intricate designs. They are widely used for everyday clothing and special occasions.
  • Kente Cloth: Woven by the Ashanti and Ewe people of Ghana, famous for its vibrant colors and geometric patterns. Kente is often worn during important events and ceremonies, symbolizing wealth and status.
  • Kongo and Kuba Textiles: Produced by the Kongo and Kuba people, known for detailed embroidery and complex designs. These textiles are often used for ceremonial purposes and display high levels of craftsmanship.
  • Mudcloth: Produced by the Bambara tribe in Mali, dyed using fermented mud. Each pattern on the mudcloth has specific meanings and is used to tell stories or convey messages.
  • Shweshwe: A distinctive fabric produced in South Africa, recognized by its intricate patterns and indigo color. Shweshwe is often used in traditional South African attire.
  • Ukara: Dyed indigo cloth made by the Igbo people of Nigeria, used in cultural and ceremonial contexts.

The Cultural Significance of African Textiles

African textiles are more than just fabric; they are a form of communication. The patterns and colors often carry symbolic meanings, representing social status, cultural beliefs, and historical events. For instance, Kente cloth patterns can signify a person’s lineage, beliefs, and social standing. In many African cultures, specific textiles are worn during important life events such as weddings, funerals, and initiation ceremonies, symbolizing the wearer’s connection to their heritage and community.

Evolution of African Textiles

Over the centuries, African textiles have evolved, influenced by trade, migration, and interaction with different cultures. The introduction of new materials, techniques, and dyes has enriched the variety and complexity of African textiles. For example, the trade with Arab and European merchants introduced new fabrics and patterns, which were incorporated into traditional African designs.

Despite these influences, African textiles have maintained their distinct identity and continue to be a source of cultural pride. They are used for practical purposes such as clothing, but they also hold ceremonial and symbolic importance. Textiles are traded as valuable commodities and are often used to express cultural identity and social status.

African Textile Producers

Some of the largest textile producers in Africa today include Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, South Africa, and Tanzania. These countries are renowned for their unique and high-quality fabrics that are sought after both locally and internationally. The textile industry in these countries plays a significant role in their economies, providing employment and supporting traditional crafts.

  • Nigeria: Known for its vibrant Ankara and Aso Oke fabrics, Nigeria is a major player in the African textile industry.
  • Ghana: Renowned for Kente cloth, Ghana’s textiles are celebrated for their intricate designs and cultural significance.
  • Mali: Famous for its Bazin and Mudcloth, Mali’s textiles are integral to its cultural identity.
  • South Africa: Home to Shweshwe fabric, South Africa’s textile industry combines traditional techniques with modern fashion trends.
  • Tanzania: Known for Kitenge and Kanga fabrics, Tanzania’s textiles are popular across East Africa.


The textile of Africa is a testament to the continent’s rich heritage and artistic prowess. From the ancient wool pieces of Burkina Faso to the vibrant Kente cloth of Ghana, each fabric tells a story of cultural identity, historical significance, and artistic innovation. These textiles continue to inspire and influence fashion and art worldwide, showcasing Africa’s enduring legacy in the world of textile production. African textiles are a living tradition, continually evolving while preserving the unique cultural narratives of the communities that create them.

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