Intangible heritageTextile Know-how: a heritage that is preserved in Grand-Bassam (Côte d’Ivoire)

Textile Know-how: a heritage that is preserved in Grand-Bassam (Côte d’Ivoire)

Located 43 km from the economic capital of the Ivory Coast, the city of Grand-Bassam is above all a major heritage and cultural place. It was indeed the first capital of the Ivory Coast, from 1893 to 1900. Despite the move of the capital to Bingerville then to Abidjan, Grand-Bassam has remained a center that breathes cultural heritage (even in danger) and culture in various forms. This is surely due to the historical, geographical and economic contexts. The fact of having been the first capital of Côte d’Ivoire has favored the presence of a built heritage which, even if it has not been properly maintained, nonetheless remains impressive, loaded of history and therefore attractive. Geographically, Grand-Bassam benefits well from its proximity to the economic capital, Abidjan, which is only 30 minutes away by car. Artists and artisans can make the most of the tranquility of a small town to work and create. Added to this is the fact that Ghanaian territory is not far away, which also attracts artists and craftsmen from this highly talented country. Finally, being a seaside town, Grand-Bassam attracts a huge tourist clientele, both internal, from Abidjan, and external made up of Western tourists, which is an economic engine.

It is in this context that two young textile artisans, among others, exercise their profession and make their modest contribution to the work of preserving traditional know-how:

The weaver Dembélé Soumana:

Dembelé Soumana on his loom

Descendant of a family of weavers from Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina Faso), he first specialized in “Faso dan fani” (artisanal fabric widely produced in Burkina Faso). For some time now, he has been making “kente” loincloths. It takes three weeks to make a man’s loincloth and the same time to make two woman’s loincloths. Women’s loincloths are smaller in size. If he keeps the traditional practice and know-how and takes up some already existing patterns, the fact remains that he creates new patterns, which gives a certain originality to his work. He manages to make a living from his work thanks to a clientele composed three-quarters of tourists.

The dyer Kra Konan Rémi:

Kra Konan Rémi at work

Originally from central Côte d’Ivoire, he apprenticed with his uncle. On unbleached cotton, he draws the patterns by hand. These are then reserved for paraffin. He has as many reserves as he wants colors. Some designs apply with stamps. He himself draws the patterns that must appear on the stamps before asking the sculptor who makes the stamps. Like the weaver, he brings a touch of creativity to his work. He produces tablecloths, murals, boubous, etc. The production of a slick takes at least two days.

Pieces of fabric on display in a hangar

Thus, if the concern about the threats hanging over the preservation of know-how in the field of textiles is legitimate, it is hoped that young people, like Dembélé Soumana and Kra Konan Rémi, will take succession and try to preserve what can still be preserved, even if certain observations remain alarming. For example, Dembélé Soumana buys his yarn at the store, therefore an industrial yarn, which implies that the artisanal production chain is not complete. Is artisanal cotton spinning still widely practiced? Likewise, Kra Konan Rémi uses an unbleached cotton fabric that comes from the factory and not from traditional weaving.

This twofold observation points to the complexity of the question of preserving traditional know-how, which comes up against a mercantilist logic and the imperatives of economic return. The preservation of traditional textile know-how / economic return from the textile industry remains an issue.


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