This cloth is typical of the domestic textiles made by the peoples, particularly the Fulbe and Bamana, who live along the bend of the Niger River. It was probably used to cover beds and couches, cushion floors or hung horizontally, with the striped border at the bottom, to divide living spaces. Like other textiles from the region, this type of domestic cloth is traded extensively.
The checkerboard is a pattern easily achieved on the West African narrow-strip loom. By rapidly tossing his shuttle, the weaver simply alternates sections of light and dark cross (weft) threads. With skill, he makes the ends of each strip even and the blocks align.
The cloth design is sometimes called sudamare walanieri ("house writing board"), which refers to Islamic writing boards used in Koranic classes. It may also relate to checkerboard amulets, "magic squares" with precise mathematical progressions, that Islamic scribes create to glorify God. The checkerboard is symbolic in many African cultures. The Dogon peoples of Mali, for example, regard this pattern as a visual ordering of life and impose it on their cloths, stone-edged fields and the house of the lineage head.
Blanket composed of seven 8 inch wide strips of white cotton warp crossed in large black blocks with weft striped border two rows from each end. One border strip has narrow black and white weft stripes between the border bands.
Venice and Alastair Lamb, England, purchased Gao, Mali, 1971 to 1983
Patterns of Life: West African Strip-Weaving Traditions, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 28, 1987-February 29, 1988
Gilfoy, Peggy. 1987. Patterns of Life: West African Strip Weaving Traditions. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 60, no. 10.
Lamb, Venice. 1975. West African Weaving. London: Duckworth, p. 60, no. 120.