Pagne Baoulé - An Elegant and Timeless African Cloth

The Baoulé (or Baule) is a beautiful traditional African cloth which has gained global visibility of late. 

The cloth originates and is made by skilled craftsmen of the Baoulé people. They represent the majority ethnic group in Côte d'Ivoire and mainly reside in a town called Bomizambo, situated about thirty kilometers north of the Ivorian capital, Yamoussoukro. 

Vintage Baoule (baule) - black and white, handwoven

The cloth is made using heritage hand-weaving techniques which have been passed down for generations. Women prepare the raw fibre (usually  cotton or silk) for weaving, spin the cotton into yarn using drop spindles, then either bleach or dye the yarn in preparation for the weaving process. Which is done solely by the men on a handloom. 

Baoulé was traditionally worn during community gatherings, special events, traditional proceedings and festivities. 

The cloth has now become a major source of income and revenue for the small communities where weavers continue to keep the skill alive. 

Handweaving Baoule (baule) cloth with a handloom

The skills of weaving this intricate fabric are passed down through a strict apprenticeship system which  lasts up to 7 years, with young boys entering the apprenticeship around the age of 8 by consent of their parents. Within those 7 years, the complex system is taught and passed down - through the guidance of a fully fledged weaver - in stages of observing, learning, practicing, and finally mastering the age-old skill in order to become a master weaver.

Baoule is first woven in narrow strips of about 12cm, then the strips are sewn together to form a cloth of about 1.80 m for women and 3.20 for men.

Handweaving narrow strips of Baoule (baule) fabric

Vintage traditional baoulé are often predominantly white and blue in colour due to the widespread prevalence of various cotton species, and indigo-bearing plants found in many West African countries.

Vintage Indigo dyed Baoule (baule)

The Modern Baoulé cloth is characterized by the use of a resist-dyeing technique (called ikat) where individual or bundles of yarn are tightly bound using thread or rubber bands, then dyed before weaving takes place. This technique  allows for both fabric faces to be patterned.

"The tell tale sign of ikat technique is the feathered or blurred edges between sections of white”. The blurriness is a result of the extreme difficulty the weaver has lining up the dyed yarns so that the pattern comes out perfectly in the finished cloth. This effect has given the Baoulé cloth its unique and distinguishable characteristic.

The Ikat technique is relatively modern and has been attributed directly to the influence of the The Dyula (Dioula or Juula - a Mande ethnic group inhabiting several West African countries, including Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Burkina Faso)  in the region from around the 1950s.

Credits and references list:

Crosspolynations. 2020. The Strip Woven Handloom Textile of central Cote D’Ivoire

Le Voyage du Calao. 2019. ‘BOMIZAMBO, LA CITÉ DU PAGNE BAOULÉ’

Loua, A. 2020. ‘The Art of Making The Baoulé Fabric’. The Kente Gentleman