Sorry to shock you, but the origin of Ankara isn’t wholly African. I bet you thought Ankara was a Nigerian or an African thing lol.
The Ankara cloth has been made generally popular by West African countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, but unfortunately, the cloth is not originally from any of the above countries. Yes, we have adopted the prints into our culture, but the fabric did not originate from Africa. I know its disappointing and that’s why there is a need for us to be fully aware of its origin.
African fabric is known by many names such as Dutch wax print, Real English wax, Veritable Java Print, African wax prints, tribal, and many more and are neither made in Africa nor designed by Africans. They are actually European-made textiles; certain African countries have embraced and made their own.
What today is often referred to as Ankara originated in Indonesia as batik. Batik uses an etching tool called a canting that holds a small amount of hot, liquid wax that allows for intricate patterns to be made on cloth. Today the UN has recognized it as a preserved intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
The colonial era of Europeans in Indonesia made its biggest impact in the 18th and 19th centuries. Batik was popular with Christian missionaries who used it to cloth converts to the church. Western African soldiers also brought back beautiful Javanese fabrics to their wives after serving in the military in the Dutch East Indies between 1810 and 1862.
This fabric has become the epitome of our ‘Africanness’ but it has a diverse and complex history. The issue of the popularity of the fabric in Africa is debated. What is certain is that the fabric started off as an imitation of the Indonesian batik locally produced in Java. Through colonization by the Europeans and Dutch, the Fabric spread through several continents. After being colonized by the Dutch, the Javanese Batik was introduced to Holland and other part of Europe but it did not gain popularity. This triggered textile industrialization as the Van Vlissingers established a company in 1894 which mass produced these fabrics in Europe. They are now known as today’s Vlisco brand.
There are various views on how the fabric entered the African market. Some are of the opinion that Dutch freighters on their ways to Indonesia from Europe dropped these textiles at different African ports. Regardless of how the Dutch print entered into Africa, it is here to stay. It found a more enthusiastic market in the Gold Coast (Ghana) and from there spread to other parts of West Africa.
Until the 1960s, most wax sold in Africa were made in Europe. After colonization, things changed. Ghana had several high print wax manufacturing companies, including Woodin- a subsidiary of Holland’s Vlisco; and ATL a subsidiary of Manchester-based ABC textiles. Africa is yet to own a textile manufacturing company with no links to our European counterparts.
So here is my brief history about the origin of Ankara. More information or tales about Ankara origin, please feel free to drop your version in the comment session; don’t forget to follow and subscribe to post via your email. You can check and follow me on Instagram http://instagram/lailahmoon