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Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Patterns

Malian clothing is sectioned off into meaningful areas that are decorated accordingly. For example, one wears senkorola “near the earth,” or under the leg, while so kono bolo corresponds to the inside arm, worn close to the body. The central area of the robe is called fini ba, or mother of the cloth, worn around the torso. Kenema bolo, worn on the arm, faces others. Outer and inner arm patterns include juguru fara (tortoise feet), fluri (flower), wara kalan wolo (panther skin), and basiaba, a pattern worn during major events in a young woman’s life. The central region of the cloth adds the mari nyonzon (crocodile finger) pattern to the list of options, and under the leg, one has the option of the tiga (peanut), sungum sen kelen & dolo ni (one-legged girl with stars), seben koloni (small, old amulet), donkokolo (drum that calls warriors to battle), or Kumi Jose Kan, a design representing the famed long-necked hero.  

To finish the process, the artist often applies sodani (a caustic soda combined with ground peanuts and millet bran) to the unpainted patterns on the cloth, bleaching them white so they stand out against the dark background. From the initial cotton harvest to the finished cloth, bogolan typically takes two to three weeks to produce.

Click to enlarge and view captions

Design produced by Moussa Fofana’s workshop. Photo courtesy of Sara Rosen Berthé