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Folklife Festival 2003 > Mali > Textiles > Indigo
"If night hides many secrets, indigo hides just as many."
—Ousmane Gamane

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 vat.

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.

Coming to the Festival...
Indigo dye, Ousmane Gamane, Bandiagara
—Ousmane Gamane is a Dogon tailor who specializes in the use of indigo dye to create deep blue cotton fabrics. These are made into clothing, such as shirts and pants, hats, bags, boubous and dresses. Dogon people also wear solid blue scarves in when they are in mourning. The indigo plants grow on the plateau in Dogon country.
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