Handwoven Woolen Blankets of the Fulani

The Fulani are one of the largest ethnic groups of Western Africa and the Sahel. Unlike many other regions in Africa, the area which the Fulani inhabit, mostly in modern day Mali, is a region which is suitable for sheep rearing and as such their primary textile is a wool blanket known as Khasa. They are woven by the renowned weaving class of the Fulani, known as madoube. As well as the Khasa they weave the Kereka which is used primarily as a hanging and mosquito net, forming an important element of the tent like homes. Together these textiles form an integral part of daily life for the semi nomadic Fulani.

The Khasa are generally woven entirely in sheep wool which is spun and dyed by women and then woven into strips by men on a double heddle loom, although cotton is sometimes used. The woven strips are generally eight inch wide and are sewn together into a large, heavy, woollen Blanket. These blankets were used in various forms as protection from the elements by the semi-nomadic Fulani. They served as room dividers, seating and other domestic use in their temporary dwellings, as well as blankets in the colder months, particularly as attire for cattle herders to ward off the cold, and mosquitoes as the temperature rose.

The Fulani blankets are predominantly off ecru, the colour of undyed Sheep wool. Pattern designs are created using dyed weft yarn as well as supplementary weft threads. Commonly designs are woven using black thread and feature a red border design. The most prestigious examples feature complex designs in several colours, while cheaper ones are often simply striped or plain cream. The patterns draw from a vocabulary of culturally specific symbols including lines, spots, triangles, chevrons and lozenges which are used represent the histories and myths of their culture and pastoral lives.

Due to the vastness of the ethnic group geographically there is a rather large variation in the woven design of Fulani Blankets with some showing similarities to the diamond motifs common among more northern peoples such as that of the Amazigh, while others correlate more strongly with the patterns of the West African strip weaving traditions.


Image credits
Featured Image: Blanket, second half of 20th century Fulani From The Minneapolis Museum of Art Collection
Above: A Detail of a Khasa Blanket from the V&A Museum Textiles Collection 
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