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Faso Dan Fani, Woven Cloth Of The Homeland

by Fiona Cameron 21 Nov 2022
Weaving in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso


This craft story starts with a name, which neatly sums it up:  Faso Dan Fani translates literally as “woven loincloth of the homeland”. This beautiful thick, hand woven cotton is incontestably emblematic of Burkina Faso. A cloth worn by generations of Burkinabé, a cotton picked and processed in the country, and a catalogue of patterns and motifs that tell a cultural history of the country. 

The Faso Dan Fani is easy to spot, it is a thread running throughout Burkina Faso. Chic stripes are it’s signature, but sometimes one spots cheques, a block of colour dotted with motifs, ephemeral broken lines, or an entirely modern take on traditional patterns.  Its soft, dense weave is worn in many fashions, most often as a “pagne” casually around one’s waist, but also crafted into dresses, jackets and suits. It is found  piled high in cloth shops and being busily woven in craft centres all over the country. 

Faso Dan Fani weaving for Afrika Tiss, made in Ouagadougou

 Today Burkinabé are still proud to wear and use this cloth, its quality is renowned and the textiled is prized. Its production is of great importance both economically and culturally in the country. 

West African Weaving, Faso Dan Fani in Burkina Faso

Faso Dan Fani, uses a generations-old technique of hand weaving found in west Africa, and as with every artisanal textile, it has its own distinct identity. Each motif is a woven story,  full of symbols. Traditionally cotton would have been gathered, spun and dyed by women, and then woven by men; but today, across Burkina Faso - weaving is now practiced by both sexes. The textile is mostly woven in relatively small strips of not much more than 30cm ( or as little as 15cm) wide on a horizontal loom. 

Woman Spinning Cotton. Burkina Faso. Image Afrika Tiss.

These lengths of fabric are then sewn together to make a “pagne”, a wrap around garment.  Faso Dan Fani  is mentioned in the writings of anthropologists and explorers of the 19th century, and it was commonly made by the Mossi, the largest ethnic group of Burkina Faso. 

“Traditionally, the weaver, a man, is also a griot ( a traditional story teller, local historian). More than just a producer of a fabric, he plays an essential role in the transmission and the link with the divinities, and this is common to the different ethnic groups. As his (weaving) shuttle travels back and forth, he weaves a story, he imbues the fabric with a meaning that echoes a whole mystique. In Dogon mysticism, the loom is said to be the body of a divine ancestor. From the jaw and the teeth (respectively the heddles and the reed of the loom) comes the word, divine. Weaving is anchored in a rich and complex system of beliefs and norms.” * Mariette Chapel Afrika Tiss

Weaving in Ouagadougou. Photo from Afrika Tiss.

Despite its cultural significance, the future of the Faso Dan Fani, is not entirely secure. It’s a common story across the globe as locally woven cotton comes under threat from cheaper imported cloth. Today in Burkina Faso the menace is mainly from Asian imports : even if many Burkinabé would love to buy Faso Dan Fani,  it is often just too expensive.  

The weaving of the Faso Dan Fani has become a subject of national importance in a country which exports 95% ( of its raw cotton. If the processes of spinning and weaving the material can be done in the country, it has the potential to bring with it a great deal of work and prosperity, not to mention national pride. 

Raw Cotton

Buying this cloth and supporting craft heritage is a huge help to transmit the knowledge of these precious traditional crafts as well as supporting the economy. According to a recent meeting of West African cotton producers, Burkina Faso is not alone, and many other countries in the region find themselves exporting the majority of their cotton crop, and end up importing a finished cotton product. 

Cotton produced and woven in Burkina Faso, made into beautiful cushions for Storie.

There is a will to correct this merry go round of trade, it was a central theme of discussion at a conference dedicated to the local processing of cotton across Africa in Koudougou, in January 2022. There are numerous Burkinabé designers and promoters of the country's textile craft, such as François Yamégo who goes by the title François 1st, and is happy to be known as the king of Burkina’s Organic Cotton Industry. For him promoting Burkina Faso's know-how means "creating local jobs, enabling these women to live with dignity and fighting against the processing of cotton abroad". He’s been shining the spotlight on this local treasure that has grabbed the attention from a clientele far beyond Burkina Faso. International designers such as Stella Jean have been seduced by the cloth, visiting Burkina Faso to select the right materials for their fashion collections. Numerous international dignitaries including Nelson Mendella have chosen cotton from Burkina Faso. 

A sense of pride in this national heritage is not new.  Burkina Faso’s much loved revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara (from 1983 to 1987)  made it a symbol of patriotism, going so far as to impose a decree requiring his civil servants to wear it. 

"Wearing Faso Dan Fani is an economic, cultural and political act of defiance against imperialism," he said in 1986. 

Today, such symbols remain important, as the country makes a push to promote and justly profit from its fine cultural heritage. This rich source of highest quality craft is why Storie has chosen to source cotton from Burkina Faso, and to promote the beautiful products they make. 

Collection of cushions made with cotton hand woven in Burkina Faso for Storie

Photo credit: Storie and Afrika Tiss


Afrikatiss - faso dan fani

Le Monde - François Ier, le roi du coton bio 100 % burkinabé

Business News - Success Story : Pathé Ouédraogo, le styliste burkinabè qui a habillé Nelson Mandela

Tissus et artisans du monde - GISELE, THE DYEING QUEEN

2021. Fortin. L’habit ne fait pas le genre. Fabrication textile et rapports de genre au Burkina Faso. Antipodes, Annales de la Fondation Martine Aublet. 15 décembre 2021. Revue antipodes - L’habit ne fait pas le genre. Fabrication textile et rapports de genre au Burkina Faso - Laura Fortin - Au Burkina Faso, l'industrie coton-textile est encore à la peine

Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine

Le Point - Burkina Faso : le retour en force du « faso dan fani

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