African Fabric is not Authentically African
The conversation on the origins of African fabric, better known as Ankara, has been taking place in for while in other countries but it’s about time Zimbabwe critically discusses the idea that Ankara represents who we are as a people and as Africans.
Ankara goes by a multitude of names; common in Zimbabwe is African fabric, but it also known as Dutch Wax Print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print and Guaranteed Dutch Wax.
The origins behind the African fabric are complex and diverse, mostly because the African fabric is actually not African. The design characteristics and original materials are of Indonesian batik that was locally produced in Java.
Though, African fabric has motif’s we think are uniquely African, the concepts of colour, shapes and animals is present throughout the world and in particular the Asian world.
African fabric is growing in its symbolism as a Zimbabwean/African identity; we see our models wearing the fabric to represent our country. We also see a ‘return to culture’ as the prints become popular in the home and even at weddings. However, no one questions whether Ankara really is African.
At least some countries in West Africa have made inroads in questioning the idea that a fabric style that was popularised by colonial powers represents Africa. We all recall the history lesson on how our ancestors traded beads for cloth; it is this very same style of cloth that we now regard as African.
Fashion identities have grown since our ancestors, and though there is nothing wrong with having Ankara represent a nation or even a continent, there is something not right about not knowing the history of what you choose to represent you.
How exactly African fabric prints became popular in West Africa is still a subject of debate, however, what is known for certain is that the prints began as cheap mass-produced imitations of Indonesian batik.
English and Chinese manufacturers and now the limited African manufacturers have made some changes to designs and motifs but the history of the African fabric has been lost in capitalism and sometimes in nationalism.
African fabrics and other fashion elements (Beads, Gele, Lace and Damask) that have become a huge symbol of cultural identity are not wholly African as we claim them to be. African fabric is not authentically African and the fashion industry needs to celebrate all its influences.