African Print History

What today many call African prints are more formally known as Ankara wax prints. Not known to many but the origins of African prints are not actually traced back to Africa but mostly from Indonesia. 

In Indonesia the process of making these wax prints was through a Batik style using an etching tool canned chanting that holds a small amount of liquid that is heated and allowed to make complex designs onto material.

But how then did African Prints become so synonymous with Africa if they are from Indonesia?

African Print History 

Africans are a vibrant and open culture. In this way there are many aspects they share with the world that the world takes as their own eg the numerous dance craze. In the same way there are many aspects Africa takes from the world and makes it their own.

In the mid 19th century these fabrics attracted the attention of African men who were enlisted by the Dutch to boost their armies in Indonesia. 

The fabrics were taken back to their wives or girlfriends in their home countries as gifts. Suddenly it caught fire in many West African countries and was taken as their own.

The Dutch producers looked to flood the Indonesian market with machine printed techniques but this did not catch the attention of the market but rather delighted the African market even more so and thereby the name African prints.

The demand from women was astounding with new patterns of African prints continuously being churned out.

They were used for special occasions for dresses and suits as well as bridal gifts for the higher quality African prints, especially those with significant meaning

Things to know about Prints from Africa

Meanings and symbols on African prints

Fabric traders and clientele would create stories of the different African prints which would then filter through to the producers who would of course rename the fabrics in its entirety

Below you see a peacock styled fabric

Peacock Dress

Guinea fowls and peacocks are usually more expensive than chickens as they are a delicacy. Thus having African prints adorned with these would communicate a higher status.

A fabric design that includes fans were synonyms of the times of Thomas Sankara who viewed it as crucial for every home to have a fan. For a home to have a fan meant it had electricity and thus liberation for his people. Wearing African prints with a fan would communicate that 1 has attained a certain level of affluence and escaped the cycle of poverty 

African prints that contain agricultural products like pineapple, guava, banana etc symbolize the agricultural importance on employment and driving the economy for people's livelihoods

The below print also known as disco is more commonly known in Ghana as 'Nsu Bura' which means water well in Ghana.

When you throw a stone in a well it creates a ripple effect. This communicates that whatever you do will have a positive or negative effect on your friends and family. I am because you are. In South Africa this is the core message of Ubuntu.

Also if you wear this design it shows others that you aspire for affluence as you have access to water and good health.

African prints of education

Education is so important in many African homes as unemployment is very high. African prints that contain alphabets or chalkboards etc communicate a families desire to prioritize education and thus uplifting their family from the cycle of poverty.

At P&H Boutique our popular brown summer designs use African print originating from Ghana as the brown summer would highlight the pursuit for growth and renewal.

The hot summers would bring brown lands before the lands are then replaced by abundant overflowing of agriculture. The fabric symbolizes that a breakthrough is coming for the wearer

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