- Museum number
Bed-screen, 'arkilla kerka' made of hand-woven sheep's wool and cotton. Rectangular, composed of seven narrow strips hand-sewn together selvedge to selvedge. Six strips bear the decoration motifs. The overall organisation of the decoration shows fifteen main brick-red or black background continuous bands with a continuous transverse weft-faced arrangement, symmetrically displayed. All the bands are decorated with geometrical motifs created using supplementary weft. The dots are woven in tapestry weaving over two or three warp threads.
In the centre of the piece is a brick-red band with a square motif surrounded by eight small lozenges. On each side of that central band are seven bands. The first three bands have a black background with designs made of lozenges and triangles decorated inside with white, brick-red and yellow dots. The middle band is decorated with two lines of un-worked twisted yellow and brick-red wool threads. The black bands are followed by a brick-red band with a design in the form of a lozenge prolonged at two ends by a bar and surrounded by four smaller lozenges. This band is followed by three black bands with designs made of lozenges and triangles and decorated inside with brick-red and yellow dots. The middle band is decorated with two lines of un-worked twisted yellow and red-brown wool threads.
These main design bands alternate with narrow white bands showing geometric designs made of combinations of black, white, yellow and brick-red lozenges and triangles of diverse sizes and decorated inside with brick-red and yellow dots.
The seventh strip has a simple weft-faced decoration of alternating black and white lines, with insertion of yellow and brick-red background.
- Production date
Length: 424 centimetres
Width: 179 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- The woollen marriage bed-screens Arkilla kerka are one of the types in the broad category of the marriage bed-screens generically called Arkilla woven in the Inland Delta of the Niger River in Mali. The Arkilla kerka are used by the Fulbe people. These wool and cotton bed-screens are suspended along and over the alcove / bed, forming a mosquito protection by adding another piece of cloth to it. The Arkilla kerka are a prestigious and an essential component of the bride’s trousseau in the Fulbe society and therefore have an extremely important social and symbolic significance.
They are woven by male weavers Maabube (singular 'Maabo') who form a specialised cast of weavers in the Fulbe society. The piece is woven on a double-heddle narrow strip loom of a particular type used for wool weaving. The whole textile is woven from one continuous warp strip. Each strip is designed in order to match with the strips next to it in order to form the overall design. The weaver plans in advance the designs of each strip according to the desired overall design and length. The motifs are formed by the various different colours of weft threads and types of weft-work. During the weaving process a short length of un-worked warp threads is left between the edges of the adjacent strips to mark the intervals. After the weaving the strips will be separated by cutting the woven piece in the un-worked intervals, and then they will be assembled together by sewing them selvedge to selvedge.
The Arkilla kerka is composed of seven strips sewn together, each strip measuring from 25 to 30 cm width and up to five meters in length. Six strips have the decorative designs while the seventh, which is meant to be used for hanging the bed-screen, has a simple black and white line design. The strips are woven either entirely form wool threads or from wool and cotton threads. In this case natural colour locally spun cotton threads were used for the warp. Locally spun wool was used for the weft. The wool threads were made from the wool of local sheep. The Inland Delta of Mali is the only area in Sub-Saharan Africa where wool was traditionally produced. Wool threads comprise black sheep wool and natural colour wool dyed with different vegetal and mineral pigments including indigo and other plants, mushrooms, and mud.
The process of making an Arkilla kerka is the responsibility of the girl’s mother. That involves first of all spinning and dyeing, or buying from other sources the necessary quantity of wool and cotton threads. It also involves also hiring the weaver’s services, which for this particular product require significant resources (i.e. monetary, food, animals for sacrifice, kola nuts). The weaving may take up to six weeks. During that time the weaver and if suitable his apprentice are taken care of by the client who provides accommodation if necessary, food and treat delicatessen including cola nuts, tobacco, etc. The start of the weaving is marked by an important ceremony at which the mother’s kin bring their contributions to help her. The last day of the weaving is also marked by an important ceremony gathering the mother's kin.
This piece shows the classic decoration of a good quality Arkilla kerka which follows a strict structure. After the strips have been sewn together the decorative patterns form transversal weft-faced bands with a symmetrical organisation from each side of a red-brown central design band. The central band is followed on each side by seven major design bands: three black background bands followed by one red-brown band followed by three black bands. These design bands alternate with narrow white bands bearing geometrical designs.
The Arkilla kerka is richly decorated with geometrical motifs which all have names and interpretations referring to cosmic symbols, Islamic symbols, social characters and the animal world.
The central red-brown band bears a motif in the form of a square surrounded by eight small lozenges. This central motif is the most important symbol on an Arkilla Kerka and is called in Fulfulde “Lewruwal ye kode” (the moon and the stars), and represents the moon surrounded by the stars. During the weaving process, each time the weaver starts weaving this section, an animal must be sacrificed (sacrificial blood must go to the earth). The sacrifice is said to protect the weaver. Depending on the wealth of the client, the animal sacrificed may be an ox or a ram or a chicken. The six strips, therefore, require six animals to be sacrificed.
The motif on the two other red-brown bands is called “Almaaje” (the leader). The motifs on the black background bands are variations of the pattern called “Jugal buragi”, a reference to the tying post for Al Burak, Prophet Muhammad’s horse. The motifs on the narrow white bands include the “Obalaaje” (fishing nets), the “Nopi na uliraabe” (the co-wives), “Tshaldi Burgal” (the whisk for milk), and others.
This piece was made in Sendegue (in the Region of Mopti) about forty years ago and its owner used it during thirty five years.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- 2006 (22 November)
- Acquisition notes
- Purchased during a fieldwork and collecting trip to Mali by Dr Claude Ardouin (Dept of AOA) from 10-25 November 2006.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number