Bogolanfini (bogolan- meaning cloth; fini- meaning mud) is a cotton cloth made from strips of woven fabric, which are decorated with symbolic patterns using the mud-resist technique, sewn together at the selvage to create a fabric that is utilized during the main four stages of a West African Bamana woman’s life: puberty, marriage, motherhood, and death.

The Details

Bogolanfini is a textile used during many periods of importance in the life of West African Bamana women. Judith Perani and Norma H. Wolff write in Cloth, Dress, and Art Patronage in Africa (1999) that bogolanfini cloth is “woven from cotton and painted with an iron-rich mud pigment” (38). Figure 1 is an example of the symbolically patterned textile from the collection at the British Museum. The museum describes the textile’s patterning, which “consists of a five by eight grid decorated with chevrons, zig-zags, and triangles.” Perani and Wolff continue, writing that the cloth “is used in female rituals at puberty, marriage, motherhood and death” (38). With multiple functions, the mud cloth represents “the many overlapping mediating functions a single piece of cloth can have in its life history” (39).

Perani and Wolff also note that traditional bogolanfini has been supplanted by:

“new forms of this mud cloth, termed bogolan, have entered the sphere of contemporary ‘fine arts’ in Bamako, Mali. It is sold in tourist markets and fashion boutiques for use in contemporary clothing and home furnishings.” (47)

Whereas bogolanfini is traditionally hand painted by women outside of urban ceneters, bogolan is typically stamped by men in cities.  The British Museum showcases a large hand-sewn example of a traditional bogolanfini (Fig. 2), where “each narrow strip has been decorated with a repeating pattern consisting of chevrons, crosses, and dashes, which is bordered at each end with stripes and zigzags.”

In the History of World Costume and Fashion (2011), author Daniel Delis Hill expands upon the multiple functions of a single bogolanfini cloth:

“Immediately after the excision surgery, the girl is wrapped in a specially mud-dyed cloth called bogolanfini… The bogolanfini cloth is later worn for her marriage ceremony and used as the swaddling wrap for her first baby. Some girls may choose to present the cloth to her excision sponsor, and the female elder may wear it to ward off evil and, after death, be buried in it.” (263)

The Brooklyn Museum has a bogolanfini cloth made in Mali (Fig. 3) dating to the late 19th or early 20th century composed of bands of decorated fabric sewn selvage to selvage, patterned by deceptively simple abstract motifs.

Lisa Aronson writes in the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: West Africa (2010) about how bogolanfini cloth continues to be used in African dressing while other patterned fabrics are now sometimes used as wall-hangings:


Fig. 1 - Bamana group (Malian). Cloth/Skirt, 1987. Cotton and mud; 149 x 78 cm. London: The British Museum, Af1987,07.13. Source: The British Museum

Cloth; ceremonial equipment

Fig. 2 - Bamana group (Malian). Cloth; ceremonial equipment, 1987. Cotton and mud; 150 x 112 cm. London: The British Museum, Af1987,07.5. Dr. Sarah Brett-Smith. Source: The British Museum

Mud-dyed Textile (Bogolan fini)

Fig. 3 - Bamana group. Mud-dyed Textile (Bogolan fini), late 19th-early 20th century. Cotton and natural dye; 157.5 x 99.1 cm (62 x 39 in). Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum, 1992.67.5. Gift of the David and Margery Edwards Collection. Source: Brooklyn Museum

“Bogolanfini (Bamana for ‘mudcloth’) from the neighboring country of Mali, a cloth also once worn as protection, has followed a very different modernizing trajectory that retains its function as dress. Traditionally, this painted mudcloth was worn by women in the context of circumcision, marriage, and childbirth. In recent decades, it too has become a popular tourist commodity, but is still used primarily as dress in the form of vests and jackets. It has even entered the modern, globalized world of fashion, with Malian couturiers based in both Paris and Bamako using bogolanfini materials in their designs. The Bamana cloth has become a popular source for dress among African Americans for whom it serves as a symbol of their African roots.” (146-147)

Wrapper (Bogolanfini)

Fig. 4 - Bamana group (Malian). Wrapper (Bogolanfini), 19th-20th Century. Cotton and dye; 94 x 146.5 cm (37 x w. 57 11/16 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979.206.190. Source: The Met

The Met has a bogolanfini (Fig. 4) patterned with abstract shapes abstracted and also notes the “immense revitalization of this textile tradition has both expanded its consumption in Malian popular culture and led to its adaptation by international fashion designers.”

The mud cloth’s symbolic designs convey a visual message that Bamana women learn about under the apprenticeship of their mothers. The Met notes that:

“the motifs are usually abstract or semi-abstract representations of everyday objects. Used in association with one another, they can give expression to a proverb or a song, articulate a message, or represent a historical event.”

Just as the symbols on bogolanfini are passed on from mother to daughter, the symbolic importance of the cloth continues to be passed down to modern generations.

Its Afterlife

Malian designer Chris Seydou working in the 1980s “designed his own fabrics based on simplified adaptations of bogolanfini patterns” and applied the prints onto Western silhouettes “rather than the traditional flowing robes and wraps of Africa” (Hill 278).  Two of Seydou’s bogolan womenswear looks can be seen in figures 5 and 6.

After Seydou popularized bogolanfini-inspired fashion in the 1980s, the mud cloth continues to inspire fashion designers today. Some recent appearances of the textile can be seen in Riccardo Tisci’s Spring 2007 collection for Givenchy (Fig. 7) and Oscar de la Renta’s Spring 2008 collection (Fig. 8). Both designers translated the traditional Malian mud fabric into modern silhouettes and designs. The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, explains that: “the high level of demand has resulted in the use of synthetic dyes, sometimes hand-applied and otherwise screen printed in imitation of the traditional, hand-painted technique.”


Fig. 5 - Chris Seydou (Malian, 1949-1994). Suit, early 1990s. Nabil Zorkot/Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum. Source: CNN

Look 12

Fig. 7 - Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy (Italian, 1974-). Look 12, Spring 2007 Ready-to-Wear. Source: Vogue


Fig. 6 - Chris Seydou (Malian, 1949-94). Ensemble, 1980s-early 1990s. Source: Folklore

Look 37

Fig. 8 - Oscar de la Renta (Dominican, 1932-2014). Look 37, Spring 2008 Ready-to-Wear. Source: Vogue