Saturday, February 14, 2009

Central African Textiles

I hoped to find some cotton print in the town of Victoria Falls to bring home and use. It was a smaller town than I expected but definitely a tourist town. I quickly saw some rather nice shops [and did not venture into the local free-for-all market where some of our group were trading their tee shirts for carvings. I found attractive table cloths and place mats, interesting woven and fringed fabrics for sarong-style skirts and one canvas pillow cover that I liked very much. Above is a detail showing the guinea fowl design which the very nice clerk told me is a potato stamp. I asked her if there were any way to purchase some of the fabric and explained that I am a sewer. [Below s the whole pillow top]

The woman was a little stunned that a tourist would like a piece of fabric that wasn't made into something useful. I kept emphasizing that I am sew and like to make my own items. Finally she said that although she knew nowhere I could purchase fabric she makes pillow covers at home to make extra money and if I wished she would bring in a couple of pieces she had not yet cut. If I were going to be around the next morning we could discuss the pieces. I emphasized that I liked the pillow cover a lot and would probably purchase it. And yes, I had until about 10:30 the next morning. She was not the shop owner, that was a man who was stationed near the cash register.
From what I saw it was clear the fabrics of south-central Africa were not like the ones NYC vendors sell which are mostly from West Africa, mainly Ghana, Mali and Senegal where they have a lot of kente cloth and the bold colors most of us think of as "African textiles"

The next morning I went to the store and the clerk showed me the two pieces of cotton in the pictures here. They are the same stripe, as you see, one in browns and one in blues. The design is "African" -- and were certainly made for tourist trade. The woman showed me a couple of others she had already cut up to become pillow covers, they were attractive but almost cliched -- animal prints of no special distinction.

I am accustomed to bargaining but by then was so aware of the neediness of most Zimbabweans that I didn't want to dicker with her. She would not ask a price. I considered the pillow cover which I intended to purchase, then asked for a discount on it; then gave her, for her pieces, the full amount of the pillow plus the couple dollars she took off so that she got more than the shop in that transaction. At the moment I don't know how I will use these stripes, it may take a while but I'll remember that very nice young woman. I am sorry I didn't ask to take her pictures.

Interestingly there were many sidewalk touts, and there were, stationed near our hotel, uniformed men with badges that said Tourist Police. The accompanied any single woman who was braving the streets. They chatted in a friendly way and waited outside of a shop to escort me wherever else I might want to go. Of course they hoped for a tip and got it. For we American tourists southern Africa is "easy" because English is a second language nearly everyone speaks. Casual conversations are easy. In the bush camps the whole staff had been taught that we tourists would like to chat and they were always ready to tell us where they lived and simple things about their families or their ambitionis and so on.


Helen Conway said...

I know you probably wanted the stuff as a souvenir and not just to get fabric but if you do want more of that kind of guinea fowl stamped fabric you can get it adn an few other similar designs from the owener goes out and gets it all herself from local traders an knowing her I believ that it is fairly traded. Look fowrad to seeing what you do with it

Stephanie D. said...

What are their own clothing made of? Is it the same fabrics as the pillow covers or are they more westernized in their dress? Very interesting. You probably gave that woman something to talk about with her friends for years--that crazy American tourist.