You can’t think of Africa without the African wax print with its bold and bright colours coming to your mind. But what you might know as today’s African wax print or Ankara Hollandaise has an interesting and complex cultural history, which began outside of the continent that ended up embracing it.
The history of the African Wax Print can be traced back to the batik fabric in Indonesia. Batik is a hand printed dying technique that uses wax and coloured dyes to create patterns on cotton fabric. This form of art is an ancient method which was used by the Egyptians to decorate the cloths of mummies in the 4th century BC. The Javanese adopted these techniques in the 6th century and since then the practice has been at its highest level there. Today the UN has recognized it as a preserved intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
Today the Dutch Wax has become a part of West Africa’s cultural landscape. Men and women wear the fabric in Multiple designs and many of these fabrics have gain traditional and social meaning. Moreover Production takes Part in Africa as well. Ankara Wax has been modified by designs which includes pop culture and art references, everyday items like books, and geometrical patterns. There are worn with Pride and have gained a new Identity through customers who see More than just colors in them. If you didn’t Know the history you would believe they have always been Part of the African heritage.
Now you are surely asking yourself how the batik print made its way from Indonesia to West Africa and became part of the African Identity. In Other to understand this complex history we will need to travel back in time to the 18th and 19th centuries, when the colonial era of Europeans in Indonesia made its biggest impact. At that time Batik was popular whiten Christian missionaries. During that same period the Dutch and English saw the opportunity for mass production of these fabrics back home in Europe by using new machinery to automate the dying process and selling a cheaper version back to the Indonesians. However, the Indonesians were not impressed by the Dutch copies and preferred to buy their traditionally handmade piece. This is where the term ‘Dutch wax’ and ‘wax hollandaise’ originated from. Since then, the prints’ predominant country of origin became Holland. So how did these fabrics find its way to Africa? The Dutch would pass around the vast landmass of Africa on their route between Indonesia and Europe, stopping to refuel, purchase supplies and trade. They quickly realized that their machine produced wax print cloth was more popular in Sub-Saharan Africa than Indonesia and so they began to adapt their designs and colors to suit the tastes of the African market. Moreover, African soldiers will buy this Wax print and bring it home to their wives after serving in the military in the Dutch East Indies. Africans saw the beauty in the imperfections and designs began to adapt to the African preferences to cater to the tastes of this new market. Ghana played a massive role in promoting this new cloth because Ghanaians were the first Africans to get in touch with the print before it later on spread across other West African countries.