African designs, £9.99
Length: 202.000 cm
Width: 114.000 cm
Gift of Charles A. Beving
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Manjaka or Papel, 20th century AD
From Guinea Bissau, Africa
North meets West
When the Portuguese began to explore the Guinea coast in the fifteenth century, they found a market for cloth from North Africa which had been traded across the Sahara for centuries. They exploited this opportunity, set up textile 'factories' in North Africa and organized the shipment of vast quantities of Berber cloth to the West African coast.
It is difficult to tell to what extent the local weaving traditions of West Africa were influenced by this. However, the complex patterns on cloths produced on the looms of the Manjaka and Papel weavers appear to show the influence of designs on Portuguese Renaissance textiles of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. These weavers still use a small version of the 'draw loom' on which the Portuguese textiles were originally woven. It has been suggested that these patterns were brought by weavers among the slaves taken to the Cape Verde islands during the sixteenth century.
However, these Portuguese textiles were themselves influenced by Moorish (Moroccan) designs. It is likely that the Portuguese trained local weavers to copy these patterns to save time and the cost of shipment.
These highly prestigious cloths therefore represent the influence of one region of Africa on another, rather than external, European influence.
C.J. Spring and J. Hudson, North African textiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)