Cape Verde, officially named the Republic of Cabo Verde, is a nation which comprises ten archipelago islands of volcanic origin in the Atlantic sea, just off the coast of West Africa with the nearest continental port being Dakar, Senegal. 

The archipelago was notably the first European settlement in the tropics, recorded as being ‘discoved’ and colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century although it is contested that records of the islands existed by arab traders as early as the 11th century and that there was a high likelihood of stranded wreck victims from the mainland predating this.

Cotton and then indigo farming was introduced to the archipelago between the 15th and 16th century by the portuguese and soon the production of a locally handcrafted cotton cloth known as Pano D’Obra followed. Pano is Portuguese for cloth and D’obra translates as complicated or labourious, referring to the difficulty of producing this cloth which is woven on rudimentary handlooms in approximately 15cm strips known as teadas and then stitched together along the selvedge as is the West African tradition.

The cloth is characterised by complex geometric patterns woven traditionally in white, indigo blue and sometimes black cotton yarn, which would be finished in different sizes with corresponding names depending on their intended application, including ceremonial use, female attire, blankets and wrappers for babies amongst others. The introduction of the weaving technique to the island is credited to Guinean weavers who were allegedly enslaved for the quality of their work, distinguishing the Pano D’Obra from its coastal counterparts by a flawlessly high standard as well as its wealth of unique and complex designs which were produced by the confluence of Manjak and Papel of Senegal, Guinea and Guinea-Bissua as well as Islamic and Moorish-Hispanic influences on the islands. At times lengths of the cloth referred to as barafula were used as a form of bartering currency, embedding it deeply in the slave trade and crediting it for the creation of local wealth as well as lubricating and accelerating the passages of trade between Europe, Africa and Brazil for both goods and people. 

As with cloth produced throughout the region, the Pano D’Obra was imbued locally with important symbolic significance as a marker of ceremony and social status, which along with its unique mix of influence and refinement, positioned it specifically, forming an important symbol of material cultural identity. Although major production of the cloth ended in the 19th century when the market became flooded with cheap cotton cloth imported from industrialized America and England, a select group of artisans on the island of Santiago maintain the craft of a version of the cloth as a form of local artisanry. The surviving cloth is known as Pano di teara which translates to  ‘cloth of the earth’ in Cape Verdean Creole and has been claimed as a major symbol of national Identity especially in relation to contemporary movements for decolonization and re-Africanization. 

Currently the primary market for the cloth is Tourist based, which creates income for select weavers but runs a risk for the quality of the work as often the consumer is unequipped to differentiate between originals and imitation prints mostly industrially printed in Senegal which flood the local market.



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