I recently learned about the Diisa, a long fringed indigo shawl worn by men in Mali, and men across the Sahara Desert. I knew of the shawl, but never knew its name. I also knew of the shawl and always wondered why it was always blue, and not any other color. The Diisa has been worn by African men for centuries. Its ‘blue-ness’ comes from the ‘diisatogène‘ which is one of the strongest artificial component of Indigo dye.The shawl itself takes a long time to weave, and is later on indigo dyed. Our ancestors probably knew all this chemistry that I just learned today, and probably honed down the recipe. Samori Toure, the great African leader, can be seen wearing his diisa shawl on several occasions.
The excerpt below is from the Adire African Textiles blog. Enjoy!
Malian artist and master dyer Aboubakar Fofana commented:
“… The dissa shawl was such an important piece for a man from this region. It was given to a young man by his mother when he got married. She would have saved for this shawl since her son was very young– they were a lot of work and were worth the same as 10 head of cattle. They were indigo dyed, and when the man died, this shawl would be his shroud. The celestial blue of indigo would help him pass from this world to heaven. I’m very proud to be making a modern interpretation of the dissa, with its long fringes, and I hope I am carrying on the tradition of something important in my culture.”
And Belgian art historian Patricia Gerimont, who is working on a book on indigo dyeing in Mali, supplied this information on indigo in Burkina Faso (my translation): “the indigo shawls and wrappers in Burkina are dyed by a specific group called the Yarsé, and also by other groups of Marka dyers. The Yarsé speak Mossi but are of Marka origin, you also find them in Dogon country under the name Yélin.”