photo © by Chad Finer
|Mama Mabinty makes a wax print in her backyard on Dama Road in Kenema. Her helper is Holy Rosary secondary school student Aminata Lahai. Kenema TTC student Cecilia Jah is in the background. Circa 1970|
Mama Mabinty lived in our Dama Road neighborhood. It was in her backyard that she made tie-dyed cloth known as garrah cloth and she also made wax prints. A very cultured women who to my discomfort showed me undue respect - she toiled away making beautiful dyed and wax printed material that she mostly sold to Fula salesmen. About once a week I would pay her a visit as I returned from Kenema Town - and many times I would buy a few items that she had made.I never did ask her where she learned her trade, but given that she was part Mandingo (and part Mende) I suspect that she had learned this from her Mandingo roots since in those days the Mende were less likely to be involved in this tie-dye industry.Certainly in those days so called European materials were making great inroads but Sierra Leoneans were also proud of their garrah cloth - and would purchase what was called Lappas and then have them tailored into wonderful shirts for men, or what was called Lappas and dockets for women. Many times the tailors would additionally decorate these pieces with intricate embroidery patterns. These tie-died materials became very popular with the Peace Corps volunteers and many of us would regularly buy lappas and have them made into shirts and dresses. The dye used was traditionally indigo (blue) and kola (brown)and these made for wonderfully decorative patterns when the material was tied. The tightest areas would take up the dye less and become more light (or even white), while the loosely tied areas would absorb the dye most and become a rich dark blue color. The process took a couple of days and then after drying the material was sometimes beaten to bring out a wonderful satin-like sheen to it. The lappas themselves came from Europe and before being worked on were pure white.