Indigo is the most versatile of all the natural dyes. The young
leaves of the indigo plant (genus Indigofera) are dried, pounded,
and formed into balls that can be easily stored and traded. Indigo
dye takes to every kind of fiber and lasts for decades, even centuries.
A common test for a good cloth is to rub it between one's fingers.
If the blue dye comes off easily, it is a sign that the dyer has
fully saturated the cloth through multiple immersions in the dye
Soninké (Maraka) women are the primary indigo dyers in Mali,
but all ethnic groups use indigo dye. Indigo cloths carry great
prestige and so are generally reserved for ceremonial wear. Maraka
brides wear tie-and-dye indigo shawls and wrappers. Tuareg men wear
turbans of a solid indigo color beaten to produce a brilliant shine.
Dogon men and women wear solid indigo clothing while in mourning,
and they wrap the bodies of important men in handwoven indigo and
white cotton blankets prior to burial.