When I lived in Mali, West Africa (as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer, which is a much longer story for another day), I wondered why Malian women usually wore bright, boldly patterned fabrics, then I saw that the open-air, first-century style markets only carried bright, boldly patterned fabrics imported from Denmark*, unless you had a lot of money to spend for more sedate clothing. Most Malian women did not have a lot of money, so it was a good thing those bright, boldly patterned fabrics wrapped as pagnes around them were attractive. Yes? No? I wondered why the powers-that-be thought impoverished Malian women should wear bright, boldly patterned fabrics.
Malian entrepreneurs sold their own batiked fabrics through women’s cooperatives, of which there were two or three in the country of Mali at the time. I bought a beautiful tablecloth and napkin set at the cooperative in the capital city, Bamako. It was of fine, hand-loomed cotton, exquisitely batiked with mango orange fish circling each other. I had Peace Corps put it in their locked storeroom for safe-keeping in their compound while I was away working in my village, but it was stolen from their storeroom. Peace Corps said, oh, well, that sort of thing happens. It had cost me two months of my stipend, and tears. I never had time in life to take up the art of batiking, so recently I created the digital version below. Now, I feel better.
Most female Peace Corps volunteers wore adaptations of native Malian dress, for all the usual reasons, but it was hard to find suitable fabric, especially on my pinch-penny Peace Corps stipend. (A Malian bank also stole a big chunk of my change, again, another story for another day.) A lucky find was my pagne(s) with sweet guinea fowl and chicks, pictured below. Unless I was traveling or had to go to official functions, such as to attend a soirée at the United States Ambassador’s residence, I wore a tee-shirt, pagne (ankle-length women’s wrap-around skirt), and the obligatory headscarf, which was in my case a handkerchief tied over my pinned up hair. I knew that my handkerchief was considered skimpy, but Mali was usually over 100° Fahrenheit, I was already covered from head to ankles, and that was as far as I was willing to go with it.
Pagne from the French literally translates as loincloth, but pagne is in actuality a wrap-around skirt in Mali, just going to show that language can be racist. What lady wears a loincloth in public? None. What woman chooses to always wear bright, bold patterns? None. By the by, look at the bright, bold patterns offered up for sale at Walmart and the ilk. Who is making those merchandising decisions? What happened to dove gray, navy blue, and taupe? Those were standard colors for women’s shoes and clothing when I was a girl. I say save the bright, bold patterns for a party!
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Caption: Just A Pretty Pattern Reminiscent of Batiking
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018
Caption: My Pagnes With Guinea Fowl And Chicks
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018