Saturday, February 28, 2009

Garra Cloth


        above are some examples of Garra Cloth from Sierra Leone - there will be more to follow

One of the most popular items for Peace Corps volunteers was the local tie-dyed cloth known as Garra.  I am uncertain about its origins in Sierra Leone but most groups had their garra makers and among Peace Corps volunteers shirts and lappa and docket became prized possessions. The cloth came from Europe - I think Holland - where it was sent all over Africa. It came in white machine made material. The material would then be soaked in either indigo dye or kola nut dye, after being tied at regular patterns to create intricate and beautiful patterns. Where there was no tieing the dye would be taken up and be darker. Where the tying was the tightest, the dye would be taken up by the cloth the least and a pattern would appear. The patterns could be very intricate. At times European dyes would be used and these might result in vivid reds or greens in the cloth. Indigo would result in varying blue shades, and kola, in varying brown shades. The result was beautiful, striking to the eye, and when tailored you could get a fine shirt to wear, or a fine dress. The use for this cloth was only limited by one's imagination but most of us had local tailors make us a fine shirt, sometimes bordered with very fine embroidery, or a similar fine dress. For the Peace Corps this might be worn when you wanted to get dressed up for some local event. But even wearing them on a trip into town was ok. All over the country Peace Corps found garra being made - and it became their most popular item to buy.  I have been told that in those days the finest garra was made near Freetown but of this I am not sure. A very fine variant of Garrah known (in Krio) as "shatin" (or satin) was made by pounding the cloth with big paddles after the dying process was complete. This resulted in a satin appearance and shine to the cloth, something that resulted in a more dressy appearance when made into a shirt or dress.  
Another volunteer had told us of a women there who made the most fine, and the most intricately tyed material - we did purchase some from her. However her material was expensive and mostly made with the so-called European dye and although we did buy some - we most liked the natural dyes.  Down in Kenema we befriended a tailor who could make anything. When Susan wanted him to make a dress in a certain style - all she had to do was show him a picture. In a week - and from the garra - he would tailor a very fine result. My shirts that I had made were less complex perhaps. He knew my size and would make me garra shirts - and if I asked these would be bordered with the embroidery that I have already mentioned. In addition to tye dyed material there was wax printing done. This resulted often in more geometric patterns and symmetry  - yet similar shirts or dresses could be made from them.  My memories of those days and of garrah was that it tended to me a more urban art and in our area it was more often the art of women.  I also remember that the town of Makeni was a hot bed for garra making - although it was certainly a widespread craft.  In our neighborhood - a woman named Mama Mabinty - made garra (mostly wax prints) across the road from us. [I have a posting about her earlier - see 12-21-2008 post]. 
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1 comment:

Mr. Patrick said...

Mr. Finer, I came across you Sierra Leone material a few hours ago. I was PCV 1967-68/Binkolo-Safroko Limba cheifdom near Makeni. Many of us thought Saffie Daramy and her sisten Sallay made wonderful garra. I returned to Salone 2004 with FOSL and remained in contact with the chief of the village I lived in until his death 2007. I have been writing pieces about my first and second times there. You might have some interest in my material. I intend to take some of the stories to the upcoming FOSL meeing in Georgia later this month. If you are still functioning and are interested try to get back to me. Patrick O'Leary