Wodaabe Embroidery

Close-up of piece of Wodaabe embroidery from a woman's top. Acquired early 21st century. Close-up of piece of Wodaabe embroidery from a woman's top. Acquired early 21st century. © Trustees of the British Museum, London, acc. no. Af2005,04.26.

The Wodaabe are a sub-group of the Fula people, and many of them are nomads that live in the southern Sahara, notably in southern Niger, northern Nigeria and the western parts of the Central African Republic. The Wodaabe are well-known for their high jumping dance, carried out by the adolescent men during the Gerewol (Guérewol) courtship ritual ceremonies, in order to impress potential brides.

Among the Wodaabe, embroidery is used to decorate amulets, bags, containers, as well as men and women’s garments. In particular, there are several embroidered garments worn at the Gerewol. These garments are: (1) a hip wrap worn by men, (2) a long tunic (sometimes described as a dress, but the sides are left open), which is worn by men, (3) a short, sleeveless top worn by women and (4) a multi-functional cloth that is used by women either as a hip wrap or as a head covering.

The older versions of these garments are usually made of narrow strips of cotton cloth in black, blue, white (often with stripes), which are sewn together to form larger pieces of cloth. Indigo was a widely used dye for these textiles and garments. By the end of the twentieth century, many of these garments were made of a single piece of imported black cloth.

The embroidery is normally carried out by women, although sometimes men will also hand embroider various garments, using a thickish cotton yarn in predominantly orange, red, yellow and white colours. The main stitch used for the embroidery is chain stitch, worked with a needle. Many of the designs produced are symbolic and reflect objects from real life and have names such as 'calf rope', 'cow’s eyes', 'road', 'sleeping children' and 'stars'.


British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 8th June 2016).


Last modified on Friday, 05 May 2017 13:14
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