KAYOJA ORIGINS| ANKARA, it’s history and journey.

The word Ankara, to the people in the second largest city of Turkey in Western Asia, means one thing, the name of their Capital city. To us Nigerians, as well as a greater part of the African nation, the word Ankara brings one thing to mind, and that is the African fabric with vibrant colours and tribal-like patterns and motifs.

An African wax shop filled with an assortment of Ankara materials.

Africans, most especially in the western parts, as far back as the first decades of the 20th century,embraced the Ankara. However a look back in history, it is discovered that one of our most popular and most frequently used fabrics in African fashion isn’t of African origin. Its origin can be traced back to the Javanese(Indonesian) Batik, a type of cotton cloth, known for its hand drawn motifs, that involves the use of wax and resist dye plate.

Indonesian women using batik techniques to hand draw motif patterns on cotton fabrics. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the 19th century, the Indonesian Batik was introduced to European countries and was then mass produced using engraving roller print machines and dye resistant resin to design motifs and patterns on cotton fabrics. The resulting product, intended for the Indonesian market, was rejected and considered to be an imitation. However the Dutch manufacturers, and their resiliently shrewd merchants, shipped the fabrics to the Gold coast and it was then spread through out Africa, where it gained acceptance because of its favorable nature to the African pocket as a result of its affordability and also because it was suitable for the climate.

The Dutch, the English and a number of other European countries including Holland were quick to jump in on this thriving market, manufacturing in mass these wax prints for the African market. Modifications were also made to the designs of the motifs and patterns to reflect the African background that has become the base market for this product. Animal and plant motifs were used at the earlier stages because it was believed to cut across the African culture. As time passed, at about 1920, indigenous motifs were adopted and portraits of traditional leaders and chiefs were used as motifs on the fabrics in their celebration. And then 1950 heralded a new age, when portraits of prominent politicians and heads of state were used as motifs, further celebrating the individuals.

The Nigerian market, as well as Africa as a whole was after Nigeria’s Independence, flooded by several countries with high quality fabrics. One of these countries was Holland, the birthplace of the Hollandais, one of the most popular and most expensive Dutch wax print.

Original Vlisco Wax. Image courtesy of Glamsquad Magazine

During the dawn of the Aso-ebi, a clothing, commonly worn in uniform by a group of people to mark an event, Nigerians generally took a liking to the Ankara as a preferred fabric to be worn in solidarity with the celebrant of those events, because of its affordability and also its colourful nature, which usually added to the ambiance of the occasion.

A group of Aso-ebi girls at a traditional marriage. Image courtesy of Wedding Feferity.

Ankara has become a key ingredient in African fashion and is without a doubt one of the most popularly used fabric by African designers, who have ingeniously learned to tap inspiration from the patterns and motifs on the fabrics, resulting in some really jaw dropping designs.

Ankara inspired design. Image courtesy of Glamour and Glitter.


More Ankara inspired designs. Images courtesy of Vlisco Wax.
Another Ankara inspired design. Courtesy of Nairaland.

It was stated somewhere that the name Ankara originated from an African girl who was the first to be given the cheaper version of the Dutch wax. We don’t know how true that is, however the name has come to stay and has carved a sub-category(Ankara fashion), that is pretty much the first picture that comes to mind when African fashion is mentioned. So whether its of Indonesian or Dutch origin, it really doesn’t matter now, it has become a part of African culture and fashion as a whole.


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