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The Names & Meaning Of The WaxPrint Designs On Our African Print Fabrics

Some say its not African print because it was the Dutch who brought it to our shores. So what were we wearing before they did? I would have to find that out. But what I know is that most of these prints have a story behind the designs. There are some fabrics with designs dating way back in my great grandmother’s time and possibly before. A few of these can still be seen today.

Why is it that some patterns have tortoises on them and some parade large fans in bold and dazzling colors? Its easy to see fingers, lipstick, elephants, birds etc in the array of patterns on our African print. I was curious to find out what each meant, after all its what we wear and there has to be more to the story of the designs on our African print.

Imagine my surprise when one random sunny day, my mom pointed to one of the prints I was using to create a wall-hanging and said, ‘That fabric is called nmlitsa.’ My ears perked up, ‘What is nmlitsa?’ She laughed and said, ‘its Ga for gravel.’ Now my curiousity was more ripe than ever! Where’s my Batmobile? Away to Makola!

I got to one of my fabric suppliers who is a GTP dealer, knowing very well that he could give me all the information I needed. I wasn’t disappointed. He reliably informed me that most of the old-school designs were Block1 patterns by GTP, however the more recent ones like Nu Style don’t have names like what i was interested in. It was peculiar to note how most of the names were mostly Akan proverbs related with a few Ga words folded in between. What were the Ga people doing?

After spending almost two hours, here are the names of some popular fabrics often seen on the streets of Accra and on social media.

PS- Please pardon my Twi spellings, Ga woman like myself. Do write out the correct versions in the comments below since even my Twi speaking friends are struggling with the spell-check too.

1.     S3 wo b3 ka me hu as3m a fa akonya tinase (Stool)

The stool symbol is the key feature of this fabric and its name simply implies that, ‘if you want to talk about me, take a stool and sit down.’ African proverbs are laden with humorous sayings but which nevertheless have deeper meanings. If you want to talk about someone, don’t just stand around talking. Its better for you to sit down and take your time and say what you have to say.

stool

2.     Sugarcane

This design really has the sugarcane look. I was told that it could also be called , ‘Min Sumor bo tamo sh3.’ This is a Ga phrase which means, ‘I love you like sugarcane.’ The Ga’s are quite skilled in sweet-talking, aren’t we? 😀

sugarcane

3. Sika Wo Antaban

Money has wings is the translation for this fabric. Money indeed flies where it wants to go. If you don’t handle it well, it will fly from you. I thought it would have had a name of a bird like a swallow or Okpo!

sika

 4.     Akyekydeɛ akyi

The back of the tortoise. I bet you never knew that was shape of this print which is quite common and also one of the retro prints. This print really does resemble the back of a tortoise’s shell with its rough and oval shape taking after the housing of the land-based reptile. Would it be that anyone who wears it is like the back of a tortoise shell? Resilient and protective? Perhaps.

tortoise

5. Nsubra

An Akan word for well. The tiny dots which are in a spiral form resemble the ripples made in a well after water is fetched from it or when a stone is dropped into its depths. This is one of the trending fabrics in Ghana and worldwide and can be found sewn into a dress, shirt, shorts, etc. Its varying colors and bold print renders it versatile and confident.

Waxprints

6. Ansan /Akɔmfɛm

Ansan stands for Guinea Fowl, the bird which is obviously displayed in a color-blocking pattern on the fabric. This fowl is a fantastic delicacy in Ghana found in soups and sauces but more popularly recently; grilled as a side order. Its a shame its so lean. Sigh!

akonfem

7. Highlife

This is personal favourite of mine, which I haven’t yet bought but keep admiring form afar. Highlife is the backbone of Ghanaian music and having it printed on a fabric makes sense to keep its memory in every generation whether in music form or fashion.

highlife

8. ‘Gramaphone’ Pl3te 

Thats not a typo but its just how the Ga’s would pronounce Gramophone and plate (pl3te) Gramophone plate is the name of this design which resembles vinyl disc used with the gramophone player to play music long before you and I were born. This just goes to show just how old this design is.  I think we should buy more of this fabric.

gramaphone

I have a few more to load up. Look out for it in the coming post. And please don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter for fresh updates!

Article source: Naa Oyoo Quartey, Lifestyle & Beyond 

Image source: Lifestyle & Beyond 

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