Thursday, 5 December 2013

Print Stories: Hirondelle

Despite wax print fabric’s foreign origins,  West Africans have claimed the fabric and proudly wear it as their own. A part of this process has been taking ownership of some of the more classic motifs by assigning them meanings. As a foreigner in West Africa, it is not always easy to understand the signification of each print, but I’ve found textile sellers are more than happy to chat about them and are normally pretty excited to be sharing such an intimate part of their culture.

One of these prints, Hirondelle (the French word for sparrow) will feature in Madame Tay’s first collection. Interestingly, each country seems to have given a slightly (or massively, in some cases!) different story to the print, although interestingly most of them revolve around the theme of money.

Togo: In this small francophone West African country, this print is commonly known as Air Afrique. The story behind this name is pretty straightforward – apparently around the time of the print’s release in the 1970s a Togolese based airline began using the motif on their employee’s uniforms.

Image credit:

      Benin: Togo’s francophone neighbour Benin has baptised the print l’argent vole – a play on words which has the double meaning of ‘money flies’ (as in money is spent quickly) and ‘money steals’ (this one’s a bit more abstract…)

Nigeria: The largest ethnic group in Nigeria, the Igbo, call the print ‘Eneke’ in reference to a proverb from famous Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’, where he explains that "Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching."

Madame Tay's Hirondelle - Purchased from GTP, a Ghanaian designed and produced brand.
      In Ghana, where this GTP fabric was purchased (photo above), it is known as 'Sikatuse Anumaa' which means 'money flies like a bird'. The pattern refers to how fleeting money is -- here today, gone tomorrow. I can relate.

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