Motifs in traditional African print designs often convey a metaphor and tell a story

Speed Bird

ALSO KNOWN AS Air Afrique | ‘Rich today, poor tomorrow’.

With the bird being such an important symbol in many cultures, this fabric has gained a variety of meanings, often referring to change, prosperity, freedom and transition. In Ghana the pattern refers to the transience of riches: rich today, poor tomorrow, for money has wings and can fly away. But the pattern also symbolises asking for a favour, such as the hand of a young woman. In Togo the pattern is called “”Air Afrique”” because the fabric was also used in the uniform of the local airline company.In the Ebo region it is called Eneke, and it is said that if the hunters learn to shoot without missing, they have learned to fly without perching.

Theme: MONEY



‘Grotto’ is an Ivorian term that refers to a well-off person who enjoys social recognition. Wearing this fabric affirms the high social status to which a woman belongs by her own merit or thanks to her wealthy spouse. The Grotto is one of the successful pagnes that have gone through the generations in Côte d’Ivoire.In Ghana this fabric is called “Papa Ye Asa”, which means “”goodness is finished””. The meaning behind “Papa Ye Asa” is that no matter what you do for your fellow human being he/she will never be grateful.



ALSO KNOWN AS Le Cheque et le Choque

Genito” is a virile young lover, while “Grotto” is a wealthy, fat, older uncle. In Ivory Coast they also speak of “Le cheque et le choque”, ‘The cheque and the scare’, referring to the older rich man who adores young, beautiful women.

Theme: LOVE


ALSO KNOWN AS Change your life | Senchi Bridge | Aganmakpo | La Danse à la Mode 

This pattern has many meanings. The names “Cha Cha Cha” and ‘Change your Life’ are derived from the rhythm of the pattern. ‘Senchi Bridge’ refers to a bridge over the Volta River in Ghana, a suspension bridge that sways violently when crossed. In Togo the pattern is called “Aganmakpo”, which means the back of a chameleon, an animal that symbolises change. And in Ivory Coast this pattern was called “La Danse à la Mode” after the war in that country.

Theme: LIFE


ALSO KNOWN AS Tomato, Necklace

The name “Aklepan” refers to an instrument used in the “Oracle Fa-“, a voodoo ritual. Perhaps it is the instrumental nature of this pattern that inspired the traders to name the fabric thereafter.

Theme: VODOO


ALSO KNOWN AS Wounded Heart | Cœur Blessé | Dynamite

In Togo this pattern has acquired a special meaning. The drawing depicts the state of mind of a woman who knows her husband is cheating on her and is leaving her with a “Cœur Blessé”, a broken heart.

Theme: LOVE


ALSO KNOWN AS Guerre de Shaba 

This popular fabric in DRCongo is called ‘Village Molokai’, as connecting the village of Molokai in DRCongo to the village depicted on the design. The pattern is also called “Guerre de Shaba”, ‘The War of Shaba’, on account of the struggle for independence that broke out in Shaba, a province in the southern part of DRCongo, now known as Katanga.

Theme: WAR



The Hibiscus pattern is especially popular in Guinea and Ivory Coast. Twelve yards are regarded as essential to a bride’s dowry: ‘No Hibiscus, no Wedding.’ The pattern is known by several other names, including “Topizo” in Togo and “Tohozin” in Benin (both meaning ‘rush’), alluding to the day it first went on sale, when it was met by a rush of customers. In 1970, it was adopted by Air Zaire’s flight attendants as their uniform.



ALSO KNOWN AS I run faster than my Rival 

The names of many patterns identify with a woman’s family and marital relationships. In Côte d’Ivoire, the classic Jumping Horse, also known as “Je Cours Plus Vite Que Ma Rivale” (I Run Faster than My Rival), expresses the rivalry between co-wives. In Nigeria, Igbo women favor this design for Aso-Ebi (uniform cloth) to express unity at their annual women’s meeting, held every August.


What is Ankara?

The name Ankara is believed to have its origin from a girl called, well, Ankara. Many stories abound. Ankara, commonly known as “African prints” or “African wax prints”, is a 100% cotton fabric with vibrant patterns that possesses great strength with its tight weaving. African wax print fabric is a defining metaphor of African design, fashion and expression; an immediately recognisable icon throughout the world. Quite simply, it just says, “Africa”. Ankara was formerly known as “Dutch wax print”. It was originally manufactured by the Dutch for the Indonesian textile market. But, by luck or by design, these prints garnered significantly more interest in West African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, than in Indonesia. Recognizing this opportunity, the Dutch decided to focus on West Africa. As African countries gained independence in the 20th century, they built their own textile mills and started creating designs reflecting traditional African culture.The prints have since then evolved to truly reflect African culture and lifestyle. At first, Ankara was reserved for special occasions. People felt that the fabric was too flowery and too colourful for everyday wear. There was even a time when Ankara textiles were thought of as the fabric of the poor. But today, it has undergone a transformation to become the fabric of choice for many. To the knowing eye, the design on a textile reveals a story, often meaningful to the wearer. The colours may also provide information about the wearer’s tribal origin, social standing, age and marital status. Dress plays an important role in African society, and has even been used as a form of protest. Designs and the way they were worn often made quiet but effective commentary on the colonial establishment. Colours in African prints have an intimate association with tribes and regions. Sepia-ochre is generally accepted across Africa as the colour used to represent earth. Yellow is the colour of initiation in Nigeria, while the combination of yellow/red belongs to the Igbo tribe of southeastern Nigeria. African print designs fall into fours main categories: – Women’s lives (family, love, housework) – Society and what it brings, good or bad (alphabet, television, money, power) – Nature (animals, flowers) – Rhythm (music, drums)

*All the info related to the fabrics are courtesy of VLISCO