African Batik – A Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage
A wax-resist dyeing process where a design is drawn onto plain, cotton cloth using melted wax. When the fabric is dipped in dye, the areas covered by the wax resist the color, leaving the desired pattern.
Traditional batik designs follow standardized patterns that have been handed down through generations. The cloth is washed and boiled several times to remove all traces of starch, lime, chalk or other sizing materials before the application of wax.
The infamous batik print that a lot of people associate with Africa actually originated in Indonesia. The textile, also known as ‘wax print’, was popularized by the Dutch during their colonial rule of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). The process of making wax prints involves drawing a design onto plain cotton fabric with melted wax. A dye is then applied to the cloth. The areas covered by the wax ‘resist’ the application of the dye, leaving a pattern on the cloth when the wax is removed.
During the industrialization of batik, the Dutch developed roller printing technology which they could mass produce and sell abroad, without the labor-intensive work of hand-painting each individual design. The new printed cotton designs were marketed as African batik, but they were not authentic.
The problem with this is that traditional African batik makers still struggle to make their beautiful textiles and sell them at low prices. When a high-fashion brand like Christian Dior rebrands these fabrics by selling them at outrageously expensive prices, they are essentially exploiting this cultural heritage and perpetuating the Eurocentric Orientalist view of these traditions.
Although African wax prints are known for their stunning colors and patterns they have an equally interesting backstory. They first originated in Indonesia – or Dutch East african batik India as it was called during European colonial times – and were brought to West Africa by Dutch textile merchants.
When creating batik a pattern is drawn onto the fabric using melted wax and then covered with a layer of liquid dye. The areas where the wax was applied remain un-dyed – this is because the waxed area resists the penetration of the dye. The process of applying the wax, dyeing, adding more wax and dyeing is repeated dozens of times, depending on how many different colors are required for the final fabric.
During the process, local artisans use fine cantings to draw detailed lines and intricate designs. The dyes used are vat dyes (water soluble) or reactive dyes (that require an additional chemical reaction). Unlike traditional textile printing techniques, each piece of african batik is made by hand so there will be slight variances between pieces making them unique and original works of art.
The dyes used in batik are made from natural products such as plant roots, berries and barks, tree sap and lichens. The paste used for resisting the dye is a mixture of cassava or rice flour and alum, or copper sulfate. Women paint the paste by hand to make flowing patterns or men use sponge blocks carved with stencils to create accurate repeated prints.
The technique of making batik cloth is often passed down through families for generations and traditional skills are still practised in many parts of Africa where the most advanced cloths are made by Yoruba people. They make adire cloth which can have intricately designed and printed patterns that have hidden meanings: the colours, for example, represent the tribe of the wearer.
Edtex Batiks produces handmade batik in Ghana using environmentally friendly processes that are good for the community and for the environment. The company focuses on sustainability and reducing poverty in its local communities through the creation of jobs and the production of high quality fabrics. Because each piece of batik is individually handmade, no two are identical, adding to the value and uniqueness of each product.
This handcrafted African Batik is a beautiful piece that shows the life of an African woman in her home. It makes a stunning wall hanging that can be framed. This is a very rare piece and will surely impress anyone that sees it.
In the 19th century, Javanese african batik batik makers brought the craft to sub-Saharan Africa. The Africans adapted the technique, making larger motifs and using more colors. They also developed their own style of dyeing, using a wide range of plant-based vegetable dyes.
The process of creating batik is simple but time-consuming. First, the batiker stamps a design onto the cloth using candle wax. Then the fabric is placed in a dye bath. The parts of the pattern that are covered by the wax resist the dye. The next step is to remove the wax and tub dye the cloth a second color.
Batik is a very versatile fabric that can be used in a variety of ways. It can be made into shirts, dresses, and skirts. It can even be used to make accessories like purses and hats.
While samples of dye resisting decoration on cloth have been found in Egypt, the Middle East, China, India, Japan and West Africa, Indonesian batik is the most developed in terms of pattern, technique and quality of workmanship. It was proclaimed a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009.
The fabric is cleaned to remove all starches, lime, chalk and other sizing materials that will interfere with the application of wax. The batik is then boiled and cooled several times to make the cotton supple enough to receive the wax patterns.
In the past, women did the batik making, but it is now largely done by men. Traditionally the men pounded or ironed the cloth, but now it can be done by machine.
Some of the patterns in a batik have hidden meanings. The grompol motif, for example, represents good luck and prosperity. The truntum pattern is said to be inspired by Queen Sunan Paku Buwana III’s love for her husband and reflects hope that as their love grows stronger, it will be fruitful.