Bogolán, the language of textiles

Bogolan, Mali’s earthenware textiles

Bogolan, ‘mud textiles’ in the Bambara language, is the type of dyeing technique that artists in Mali have used for centuries on hand-woven textiles. Ancestral handicraft made by hand with clay and natural dyes on cotton cloth. The natural dyes used for painting come from the leaves and bark of African trees. The mud from the Niger River is applied with brushes and the excess soil is later washed off. The sun dries the fabric and enhances the luminosity of the colours.

Ndomo Segou

Bogolanfini, the result of the mud on the textile

These textiles, known as bogolanfini, were protective, ritual and ornamental garments, masterfully painted by the women of the Bamanan ethnic group since time immemorial. The word bogolanfini comes from the bamanán and is composed of Bogo, which means earth, lan, result, and fini, textile, which can be literally translated as “the result of the mud on the textile”.

It is this result, beautiful and simple at the same time, which in the traditional bogolanfini is characterised by the contrast of black and white and in the modern bogolanfini by the incorporation of earth tones, that artists and craftsmen seek.


The colouring techniques are based on the use of three basic colours. They are obtained from natural materials and can be mixed in different compositions, so that a spectrum of up to ten colours is possible.

african textiles

Bogolan textiles, the secrets of the language of symbols

This symbolism in the bogolan textiles shown in the images below is a small representation within a coded universe that only women knew, being their mode of written expression. These symbols, which, depending on how they were combined, gave shape to different messages.

Exhibition “The language of canvases” by Mamah Africa Galeria

Travelling to Mali in search of bogolan textiles

We travelled to Mali, specifically to Segou, to learn first-hand about the Bogolan weavings and their codified universe. Mali has good workshops where you can learn about natural dyeing techniques. The Ndomo centre in Segou, founded by Boubacar Doumbia, is one of them. During our last trip “African Deep Roots 2024” we had the opportunity to visit his centre and learn about dyes and the symbology of textiles.

Ndomo handicraft centre in Segou, Mali

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