google-site-verification: googlecb803562c78427f3.html Batik in Africa: History and Production | Kingdom of Africa



Posted by Florian Cheval on


Batik is a highly respected ancient art form. This is a similar process to that used for making African print fabrics, but instead of using industrial printing machines, everything is done by hand! The fabrics are used to make traditional African clothing as well as modern Afrocentric clothing, accessories and homewares.


What does the legend tell us ?

The story goes that the Belanda Hitam , meaning "Black Dutch" in Malay, introduced batik to West Africa in the mid-19th century after serving as an indentured soldier for the Dutch in Indonesia. Returning from their 15-year conscription, legend tells us that the men brought back trunks of Javanese batik quality, covered in opulent and fine designs that captured the imagination of their friends and relatives.

Javanese batik in Indonesia - Kingdom of Africa

It's a great story, but unfortunately, as any scholar will tell you, the history of textiles is just a one-stop shop. Of the 3,080 recruits from 1831-1872, only a handful returned to West Africa, and those who managed to return generally returned empty-handed; recruits were not paid until they arrived at their final port, which would have made purchasing souvenirs quite difficult.

The tradition of Batik in Asia

Batik is older than history, with traces even laced into the packaging of Egyptian mummies . Most people think of Southeast Asia when they hear batik, and indeed the word derives from several Malay words. However nations as diverse as Japan and India have had their own versions of the tradition. Batiks have been as good as gold for much of history, and were eagerly traded between Asian neighbors as early as the seventh century.

the tradition of batik in asia

Europeans entered the mix much later, but they became the main promoters of "woven cargoes" from the 17th century onwards, and some colonial powers, notably the Dutch (during their golden age), contributed heavily to the industrialization of this technique.


The arrival of Batik on the continent

Of course, this doesn't quite explain how or when batik arrived in Africa. The Dutch researcher Ineke van Kessel suggests that the fabrics arrived from India to West Africa by land, not sea, via ancient trans-Saharan routes. Local populations, such as Yoruba in Nigeria , have incorporated aspects of wax printing into their traditional textiles and, little by little, the trend has taken hold.

Batik in West Africa - Kingdom of Africa

When the Dutch and English began to roam the coast of West Africa in the 17th century, they brought their wax (wax batiks) and non-wax (roller printing) fabrics, thus targeting a local population already ready to consume them. Over time, European textile designers began to develop prints for their African market, adapting designs to each region and port.

Wax printed Batik: A lucrative business

Batik, in its original artisanal form, and its derivative, roller printing (often confusingly called roller printing). Dutch wax ) are today omnipresent and very popular in West Africa. Prints range from abstract geometry to figurative images and beyond. For many men and women, designs are a form of expression and even communication, announcing everything from their marital status and mood, to their political and religious beliefs.

batik wax fabric- Kingdom of Africa

Until the 1960s, most fabrics wax were still produced in Europe, but in the post-colonial era, everything changed. THE Ghana features three of the best wax print makers from Africa: Woodin , GTP (sister of Vlisco in Holland) and ATL (sister of ABC textiles in Manchester). Unfortunately, legal and illegal Chinese and Nigerian copies have flooded the markets in recent times, and many, (especially GTP), have suffered severely.


Batik is a wax-resistant dyeing technique that originated in Indonesia. A design is printed or drawn on plain cotton fabric using melted wax. The fabric is then dyed and the parts of the design, which are covered with wax, are protected. Once the wax is removed, the original background color of the fabric is made visible where the wax was previously.

The Batik technique - dyeing - Kingdom of Africa

A traditional batik making workshop in Ghana, West Africa, where the sponge block designs are created to print the wax onto the fabric before the dyeing process.

In the 19th century the Yoruba of Nigeria, the Wolof and Soninké of Senegal and the Bamana of Mali, began experimenting with their own designs using mud, cassava starch and rice paste instead of rice paste. wax to resist dyeing.

What are the processing steps for Batik?

Below are simple, step-by-step instructions that explain the process of making batik in a small family workshop in Ghana:

1. Melt the wax in a large basin: A basin where the wax is melted inside to make traditional batik fabric by hand in a Ghanaian workshop

Batik making technique - Kingdom of Africa

2. Sculpt the design on a sponge block using a knife

Batik making technique - Kingdom of Africa

3. Dip the sponge block in the wax hot and melted and print it on a fabric (100% cotton - called a "pad").

Batik making technique - Kingdom of Africa

4. Put all the fabric in the first bath of dye to create the main background color (usually the lightest color). then dry the fabric outside.

5. Repeat the same process of stamping , dyeing and drying to add additional pattern and color to the fabric.

Batik making technique - Kingdom of Africa

6. Remove the wax by dipping the fabric in boiling water, as Daniel demonstrates in the video below. This helps remove some of the wax, but not all of it.

Batik making technique - Kingdom of Africa

7. Wash the fabric by hand in cold water to remove all the wax.

8. Dry the fabric outside.

    Sustainable production through recycling

    Wax is always recycled and reused to create new patterns. The removed wax rises to the surface of the boiling water and is scooped up using two small sticks and placed in a separate basin. It is then steamed to remove the water inside and is then ready to be remelted for printing new fabrics.

    This is also the case for large factories that manufacture African wax fabrics, because otherwise there would be enormous waste. It is also better for the environment to continue to reuse the wax rather than throwing it away afterwards.

    Types of Batik dyes

    Either vat dyes (water-insoluble dyes such as indigo) or reactive dyes (chemical reaction) are used in the dyeing process. Vat dyes use stronger chemicals and color fastness is better when washed regularly than reactive dyes.

    Types of batik dyes

    Dye colors commonly used for batik are: green, blue, yellow, brown, purple and indigo.

    We hope you enjoyed learning about the batik making process. Please see our full article on 👉 African wax fabrics to find out more


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