Nov 11th 2015

Yoga wear is something that most people can picture and at least have an idea of what it is. But african prints, or capulanas as they’re called in Mozambique, is maybe not as clear for everyone.
Therefore, in todays post I want to show you what it is, how it is worn and used traditionally by many mozambican women and share with you the history of what is known as african prints.


This is a capulana store in Xipamanine, Maputo, called casa Vipra. Almost all prints come from India, who is together with China the main exporters of african prints. The story of african prints is actually very interesting and shows that from the beginning these so called african prints were not so african at all.


The story starts around the end of the 19th century in Indonesia. Back then it was a dutch colony and the Indonesians has a beautiful handprinted textile production of batik. With modern technology the dutch developed a way to machine print the same batiks with the hope that the low price would be attractive in the colony. Because of the machine, however, it created a sort of crackling effect on the print, which of course did not exist on the beautifully handprinted batiks. The Indonesians were picky with their quality and the machine printed textiles didn’t sell as good as the dutch hoped it would.


The dutch were therefore forced to look for other markets and so they did, and it was on the sea route back home around the African continent that they found their new market: Ghana.
In collaboration with Ghanaian women they developed a new type of pattern suited for the Ghanaian market and taste, but the production was made in Holland by a dutch company.


This dutch company still exists to this day and is called Vlisco. Because of competition from the east Vlisco is today branding itself as a high end, high quality garment producer. Today only 10% of the total number of wax-prints are produced in Europe.


This is how you normally see women wearing capulanas in Mozambique.
How the fabric is used varies from country to country. Even within a country like Mozambique patterns, colors and illustrations also vary. In the south the colors are more earthy and the patterns uses more straight lines, while in the north the colors are vivid and more bright because of influence from Tanzania.
Women has had an important role in the establishment of this piece of garment in the african market. The patterns were developed and created in a close interactive dialogue between the dutch company and the women selling and distributing them throughout the country. In Ghanas neighboring country Togo, these women, called “Nana-Benz”, even held complete monopoly power over the distribution of these textiles.

Photos by Sérgio Santimano
Source The fabric of Africanity-Tracing the global threads of authenticity, Nina Sylvanus