Bogolanfini (say Bo-ho-lan-fee-nee, with emphasis on ‘fee’) or mud cloth is an ancient textile tradition practiced by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa.
Mud cloth holds deep cultural significance for the Bamanas, as it is used in important rituals and events that mark milestones from birth to death. Bamana hunters wear red mud cloth ornamented with leather talismans, symbolizing the occult powers that protect them.
Bogolanfini is made primarily by women who pass on the technique and designs to their daughters. Each piece of mud cloth is unique; every combination of color, patterns, symbols and arrangements has a different story to tell. The mud cloth worn by a Bamana also signifies his social status, profession and character.
The handspun cloth comes from locally grown and harvested cotton. With small hand looms, the men weave long strips of cotton known as finimugu and sew them together into cloth panels. From here, the women take over the elaborate process of washing, dying, painting and bleaching the fabric. Mud cloth gets its name from the iron rich mud of Bamako that is collected from ponds, soaked and fermented for a year until it turns black. The women use bamboo strips, twigs, feathers and reeds to paint designs and various plant solutions for fixing the dye.
White designs on a black background are most favored. Rust signifies the protective supernatural power of the hunters. Along with grey, it also acts as a camouflage for hunters. Women typically wear white for important ceremonies.
Deciphering patterns can be tricky, since the meanings conferred upon them are highly individualized. There are symbols for wealth, love and family unity. A design for a warrior’s belt indicates a courageous person. The ‘talking drum’ is meant to summon warriors to battle or scare animals during a hunt.