Dogon BouBou Bogolan Tunic
- Tribe: Dogon
- Origin: Mali
- Approx Age: Late 20th Century
- Materials: Bogolan cloth
- Dimensions cm: 135 x 100
- Ref. Number: M0600
Very striking and vibrant Dogon boubou tunic with wonderful use of classic colour and motives. Made from the traditional Bogolan cloth of the Dogon people. Among many styles of clothing made by the Dogon with the Bogolan cloth the boubou tunic is the most common. Traditional boubous are made of one large sheet of cloth, sewn with three seams to create sleeves and a collar. Upon reaching adulthood the young men receive a boubou, or shepherds tunic and once they have become an honorary figure in the society they add a shawl to make it a grand boubou.
Mud cloth patterns have become a language in and of themselves. Bogolan painters become storytellers, combining symbols to convey a story or legend. Region-specific symbols abound, but the best-known symbols—often of kings, brave warriors, nobles, hunters, mothers, slaves, and griots—are most common. Wall hangings often celebrate historic events or emphasize attributes of the heroes of Malian oral tradition.
The making of the Bogolan cloth is a long and time consuming process . After the cotton or wool has been carded, spun, and woven, it is time to begin the preliminary steps of dying the fabric. Modernization and globalization have widened the scope of cotton production, particularly in southern Mali. In the cooler north, sheep’s wool is more commonly used. Long woven strips of cloth called finimugu are sewn together to create larger swathes of cloth. A soak in an infusion of leaves from the n’tjankara and n’gallama trees, and a day of drying in the sun turns the cloth a deep saffron. In addition to preparing the cloth for mud dying, this yellow base makes the mud dye a richer brown. Dying a full shirt or wraparound skirt uses about two liters of this solution. Traditionally women tell stories while combing, carding, spinning, dying, embroidering, and tailoring the fabric, while the men take care of the sheep shearing and weaving. Now comes the stuff that this craft was named for: mud. Rather than sketching out any of the designs first, the artist visualizes the desired pattern and uses their hand to measure out how and where the patterns will play out on the cloth before outlining and then filling in each motif. The artist moves from the outside of the cloth in, filling in the surrounding areas once each pattern has been drawn out, and rinsing off the mud once it has dried sufficiently. Although several variations of mud application have arisen (spatula, stencil, and table), the method of pressing the mud into the cloth against a hard surface allows the mud to fully penetrate the fibers of the fabric. Traditional bogolan masters stretch the fabric over a calabash gourd and paint with sticks. To achieve the prized dark color, the painter must apply two coats of mud and soak it once again in the boiled leaf concoction to ensure that the color has fully penetrated the fabric and deepened to the richest tone possible. The black mud used at this stage has been harvested in April and fermented for a year in an earthen pot, transforming from gray to the gray-black color used for bogolan. It is applied with a brush, stick, or the increasingly popular stencil- and paintbrush-dabbing method and is most intense when the tannin-rich pods of the baraguwa plant have fallen and rotted in the still pond or lake bed where it has been collected. The technique of painting the negative space first originated in Beledougou; less skilled artisans in other towns often simply paint the pattern onto the yellow background. To decorate a two-by-two square meter of cloth takes roughly forty-eight hours which are usually spread out over two weeks. Typically only custom-made cloths warrant the attention of a second or third coat of mud to make them more resistant to fading.
The results of all this intensive labour goes to produce such wonderful cloth that then is utilised for making richly sumptuous items of clothing. In the post colonial era the Boubou has been adopted as the mans national dress.