Borrowing or Appropriation: Indigenous West African Textile Fabrics Scopes


Richard Acquaye


This study interrogates issues of appropriation, cultural and indigenous ownership and their implication for the production and commercialisation of indigenous West African fabrics. It draws on the ‘Maori Tattoo', ‘Volkswagen-Tuareg SUV' and ‘Northwest Coast Native American Potlatch' controversies and makes a case for a system that will allow the use of cultural works as a reference for textile designs without necessarily provoking protests and disapproval. Textile designs have been the most animated form of visual expression in West Africa and have inspired many of the philosophies that underpin prestige and status in the region. The fabrics represent one of the many creative manifestations of cultural identity that have shaped communities occupying its diverse landscape. Cultural, religious and ritual meanings are conveyed by colour preferences, materials, embellishments and design. These textile design traditions provide a rich source of ideas for contemporary designers due to their form, colour and appeal. Therefore, the temptation to reference them in design terms without the appropriate permissions and clearances is very great. This study advocate for a process modelled on the principles of the ‘Creative Commons' that will allow for greater access to the knowledge and culture for informed access and acceptable usage of West African indigenous textile design references. It hypothesises that sharing that knowledge and creativity with the world will engender new design ideas and by extension provide mutual benefit for both ‘cultural owners' and users. The case study research method is used because data comes largely from documentation, archival records, interviews, direct observations and physical artifacts.