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2013/8/22 Mud cloth (bogolanfini), cotton, designed and made by the Bamana people, Mali, early-mid 20th century. Click to enlarge.

Bogolanfini or mud cloth from Mali

The Bogolanfini mud cloth is a distinctive textile of the Bamana people from Mali in West Africa. Known for their dense patterning of wavy lines, circles, chevrons, spots and other geometric patterns, the mud cloths are said to have magical properties and the ability to absorb threatening evil spirits through their complex meandering patterns. Typically worn by local tribesmen and women, what is perhaps most unique about the Mali mud cloths is the intricate technique of their production. The …


Object No.


Object Statement

Mud cloth (bogolanfini), cotton, designed and made by the Bamana people, Mali, early-mid 20th century

Physical Description

Bogolanfini cloth of hand-spun single ply made in eight narrow strips featuring triangle, chevron, wavy line and spot designs using the 'discharge-dyed' technique.


No marks. Paper swing tag pinned to textile. 'Bokolanfini: mud cloth of the Bamana of Mali. Drawn on naccas cotton lengths'



885 mm




This Bogolanfini mud cloth is made from hand-spun yarn woven into nine strips on a man's double-heddle loom. It has first been washed and sun-dried then dyed yellow using extracts from the leaves of two native African trees - the Anogeissus leiocarpus and Combretum glutinosum. The desired design is then applied on one side of the cloth from mud which has been collected a year earlier from a dried-up water bed and this causes the yellow dye to turn dark brown. The process is repeated twice, but on the second application, the yellow is removed altogether. According to Picton and Mack in 'African Textiles' (London, 1989) p.161 "The yellow dye in the unpainted discharged with a caustic preparation returning the fabric in those areas more or less to its original natural colour". After this, the cloth is sun-dried for one week and washed again, leaving a white/neutral design on a dark background.

The dyeing process is caused by a chemical reaction between the mud and the tannin and not a stain as such. The mud is grey, not the resulting colour of the fabric (dark brown or black). It is also non toxic to the maker and does not stain their hands.
The motifs are important and traditionally reflect protective symbolism for the hunter who wears the fabric as a protective 'armour'. Family (dot within circle), camel footprint ( half diamond with central dot), crocodile (long line with horizontal branches), fence (zig zag with underline), fish bone, square flowers are depicted in these symbols.
Camel footprints denote a spiritual journey; crocodile prints (very strong on this cloth) denote friendship in the village - the crocodile knows where to find water and lives a long time; family symbol is very precious and good; fish bone gives support and strength; dots are stars; square flowers denote life.
Lindie Ward 14.3.2013



Mud cloths, like this, were made and worn as wrap tunics by men and women of the Bamana tribe in Mali, Africa. The Bamana, also known as Bambara people, is the largest ethnic group in Mali which is today of predominantly Muslim faith.

This particular textile was donated to the Museum from the private collection of Dr John Yu and Dr George Soutter. It forms one of three Mali mud cloths in this donation which were collected in Portobello Road, London in the late 1980s-early 1990s.


Credit Line

Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by in memory of Dr George Soutter, 2012

Acquisition Date

21 January 2013

Cite this Object


Bogolanfini or mud cloth from Mali 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 20 January 2022, <>


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