Strip-Woven Cloth
Mende people, Sierra Leone, early 20th century

Sierra Leone cloths of prodigious lengths, known as kpokpo, would hang at important occasions such as state ceremonies and funerals as striking displays of wealth and social position. These large strip-woven, cotton cloths required specialized production—they were typically commissioned for an event and weavers were sometimes retained by chiefs. This kpokpo is composed of strips over thirteen feet long, and lengths of up to thirty feet have been recorded. In 1924, the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley featured a Sierra Leone Pavilion where Western audiences had the opportunity to view examples of traditional cloths as well as demonstrations of Sierra Leone weavers at work.

It has been noted that, "A good kpokpo cloth will be judged, of course, not only by the accuracy with which its various design elements fit together but also by the number of motifs employed and the imagination shown in their distribution over the cloth." Juxtaposing bold design with subtle variations in patterns and colors, this unusually fine example speaks of the weaver's virtuosity and the longstanding traditions of Sierra Leone weaving.

Illustrated in African Textiles, John Gillow (2003), cover and p. 28.

13' 2" H x 63" W
Kpokpo, Strip-Woven Cotton Cloth
Costumes | Textiles

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