Wax Resist Textiles

Wax resist textile, Grand Bassam area.

Wax printed fabric did not originate in an African nation. Rather, it developed in India around the 16th century and then moved to Indonesia and Japan. The origin was Hinduism, and the cloth was used to depict fertility symbols as well as identify clans. The Dutch had a strong presence in India, so the cloth eventually was brought to Holland. The three ways that the fabric moved to Africa during the 19th century was by Christian missionaries, European traders, and West African soldiers who were stationed in Indonesia and brought back fabrics for their wives. European textile producers attempted to include African cultural symbols in the fabrics they produced to be sold in Africa.

Although the wax prints came to West Africa from Europe, Africans customized the designs and gave them personal meaning. A large number of wax printed fabrics are now made in the country of Ghana. Many of the designs and colors demonstrate cultural beliefs and practices. These fabrics were used to cast insinuations, yell insults at rivals, exhibit love, and project one’s social status. Individuals in several West African nations have been seen wearing this cloth in three-piece outfits for special occasions as well as casual dress. In some West African communities, the cloth is used to represent the inheritance that a woman bestows on her daughters.

Includes information from:

Aronson, Lisa. “Cordwell and Schwarz: The Fabrics of Culture: The Anthropology of Clothing and Adornment.” Studies in Visual Communication 8, no. 4 (October 1, 1982): 89–91. 

Cordwell, Justine M., Ronald A. Schwarz, and Ruth Nielsen. “The History and Development of Wax-Printed Textiles Intended for West Africa and Zaire.” Essay. In The Fabrics of Culture: the Anthropology of Clothing and Adornment, 467–89.

Howard, E. K., G. D. Sarpong, and A. M. Amankwah. “Symbolic Significance Of African Prints: A Dying Phenomenon In Contemporary Print Designs In Ghana.” International Journal of Innovative Research and Development 1, no. 11 (December 2012): 609–24.