Fulani for Tuareg weavings

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Arkilla / hangings by Fulani from Mali and Niger      

Arkilla means « a mosquito net» in the Fulani language.

Zareh Achdjian writes

With textile arts, some have an ethnographic perspective, some others have an aesthetic perspective, in that second group, few are emphasizing age, others insist on condition, and there are those who are happy with just any fragments representing historical documents.

The approach to and the study of Arkilla weaving is no exception to the norms for textiles.

I personally believe in the aesthetic emotional experience created for the viewer by the presence of a piece followed by analysis. The forms on historical, sociological, and geographical frameworks of textile production in my mind is incomplete to formulate pertinent ideas.

I defer to viewers, in drawing from their experience, to develop their own ideas in this regard.  I would like to present a short list of references on the subject from articles, journals, etc.:

  1. Imperato, P., « Wool blankets of the Peul of Mali », African Arts, vol VI (3) 1973
  2. Gardi Bernhard & Seydou Christiane, « Arkilla Kerba: la Tenture de mariage chez les Peuls du Mali »,
  3. Coquet, Michèle, « Textiles Africains », Editions Adam Biro.
  4. Balfour-Paul, Jenny, « West African Indigo and resist-dyed Textiles »,
  5. Hali Magazine vol 105. issue 103, July August 1999.
  6. Gillow, John « African Textiles », Edition Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco, 2003. Cf P.46-48 and 49.


Knowledge of Mali African textiles is rather limited due to the oral traditions of their cultures, which leaves a hypothetical basis for any theories concerning their works.

I consider, therefore, as pseudo- scientific most of researches which have been done in that field.

On what scientific facts are based attributions of the designs ?  on what scientific fact, it is established that an arkilla with a minimalist design (arkilla Bammbu) is very probably ordered by an orphan ?  of course, for me, this is a joke !  … serious knowledgeable persons would nearly never consider that a minimalist design is the fact of someone who did not have enough money .. I would say, just the opposite .. you need to be even more wealthy .. rich enough to not show your financial power ! of course, he arkilla bammbu is the fact of a tradionnal design or motives with a specific ethnic group. I hope than one day someone will discover for which clan or “tribu” in french, this type of design used to be woven, and I am sure, latter, several others examples sharing the same design will appear on the market and will to demonstrate my hypothesis.

Many others mistakes have been done ! and this is due to th fact, that those who wrote about African textiles were not as used as those who studied Turkmen rugs and textiles.

The geberal approach should be very similar.

The major pieces have been done for the rulers, for the ruling class !  not for the poor ! the rulers rule, they don’t weave !  weavers weave for them, but this does not mean that designs and motives belong to weavers !

are Maboulé Fulani weavers and designer-weavers or only weavers ?

is the design for any one ? in a so hierachic society as the Tuareg society or the Tuareg societies, what is the part of the design of an arkilla which is due to the weaver ? and what part is due to the Tuareg whi is a Lord who will never weave !

So many of our questions just don’t have any answers valid in fact. Having presented these concerns, I would like to pay compliment to those museums and institutions which have given the most serious attention to « Arkilla ».

  1. The Basel Ethnographic Museum has done the most up to the present to develop an understanding of the Arkilla. The document for the 2004 exhibition are eloquently convincing, as are the large number and a range of exhibited pieces. Most of books about the subject, and even if I don’t think that it is scientific, has been published by the The Basel « Museum der Kulturen ». I would decern the palm of the ethnologist approach to them.
  2. The de Young Museum of San Francisco has probably done the most for the best presentation of this type of piece. The de Young Museum of San Francisco has acquired an « arkilla jenngo » piece of high quality and has presented it with the most remarkable mounting and display framework. I would decern the palm of the aesthetician to them. The de Young Museum of San Francisco did the presentation with an highly professional approach .it has truly highlighted in its conservation and preservation this type of Malian textiles. Such an astute presentation is not the general rule but rather an exception for an « arkilla jenngo ». The delicately measured mounting is truly remarkable. Some specialists or devotees might argue that no « arkilla » is truly presented in its natural Malian context with wrinkles and folds displayed. I entirely agree with Diana Mott of the « Young Museum » that these textiles have lost their functionality and therefore, for purely aesthetic reasons, the objective then is to highlight aesthetic.
  3. The Foundation Dapper in France deserves respect from museology institutions for having done with least resources. A fragmented piece of notable age and close to the arkilla 5 has been respectably exhibited there in a display case. Apart from these, few others museums must be quoted as
  4. the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
  5. the Metropolitan Museum of NY
  6. the Chicago Arts Institute
  7. the Textile Museum of Wahington
  8. the British Museum
  9. the Musee du Quai Branly They have some arkilla textiles. They have not really been elevated them to an importance meriting proper display in a museological framework, regarding their financial power and high quality of curatorial staff. But a beggining is better than nothing.


  1. For the CD presentation of this digital catalogue, I have taken up the definitions of groups and subgroups most frequently employed by others before me.
  2. However I feel that we should think of the reality behind the classification as somewhat complex. It doesn’t seem possible to me that the Fulani and Peuls are entirely alone in having woven such a broad variety of all these works.
  3. It seems evident to me that attributions to other ethnic groups is necessary. The design is belonging to who ? to the weavers ? to the rulers of the Tuareg’s clan or ethnic groups ? My idea is that most of persons who have written of the subject missed completely the subject !  We should not forgot that it is not because the Tuareg are divided in a very hierarchozed society that the superior authority did not decided about the motives and designs, and about the weavings.
  4. THE FIRST MAJOR DISCRIMINATION ELEMENT for me is the identification of the tribe or clan for which the piece was woven.
  5. One ethnic clan, one familly, one design and motives !
  6. so at least the name of a weaving must denominate the name of tribe or clan or tuareg group for which it has been woven decades or centuries ago.
  7. In the future, I would expect that someone changes completely the approach of previous scholars, as the ones of the Basel Museum, and this mainly for the early pieces. Latter pieces migth be approached differently regarding the fcat that they have been woven for the tourists !
  8. The datings seem also debatable. Certain works seem older to me than the assigned dates by our museum or exposition curators. The arkilla jenngo shown in illustration 4 is more likely from the end of the 19th century than early 20th century. Why are we dating works in museums no earlier than beginning of the 20th century when carbon 14 datings of so many of other fragments indicate 13th or 14th century ? What seems essential is that we must deepen and extend the development of our knowledge in order to better understand what we are appreciating when looking at a work. Always, we must not let descriptions subtract from the essence of the work itself.


Looking at « Arkilla »

Before letting you « look at » the arkilla works presented in « digital format », I would like to draw your attention to several points:

the characteristics and physical aspects of your P.C screen represent in another way the visual aspects of the work. You are looking at a digital representation of the work and are therefore encouraged to go and see the physical object. No artificial representation can replace the direct observation of the work itself.


The way to contemplate them is the horizontal way.


The arkilla textiles are used by the tribes people as a mobile separation in their nomadic or semi-sedentary dwelling places. The height is most often above 3 or 4 meters and sometimes is more than 5 meters. The placement of the works are in a manner that they are most advantageously displayed to be seen at a distance. The idea is that the arkilla jenngo are intended to be seen from the exterior of the Touareg tent, and consequently served as a mean of identification of the owner or habitant of the interior dwelling. The Touareg who commissioned the works would never have accepted to display a piece that did not properly reflect their ethnic relations or their social rank in Touareg groups.
Their ideas on these matters are different from ours and in their personal beliefs the pieces would also serve to keep bad influences and gods at a distance and conversely to attract the « good ».
A pertinent question then is what impression, what feeling, what sensation would I have standing a dozen meters from an « arkilla » ?


do Arkillas got similarities with The Nympheas by Claude Monet ? our answer would be YES. The arkillas are surrounding the nomadic tent of Tuareg, and there are nothing more. They create a visual atmosphere of a same design (blue and white for Arkilla Jenngo) which is a mental world all around the one who is living inside the tent. They are a 360 ° image. The sun is so shining that there is a visual dancing effet or a dysfunction of the normal retinian view and in a way motives are dancing for the one who is contemplating the arkillas.


Don’t forget that these pieces were most often observed in full daylight sun. This point is important because the creators of the weavings were primarily concerned and kept in mind a design that would be in play with the intense vibrating light reflected from the hot sand. This light would have a pronounced effect on the rectangular colored forms imparting them with a dynamic resonance between color and form. The hot, vibrating, reflected light could in effect create an illusion where the white squares would take on a blue hue, with back and forth oscillations.
If one looks at an « arkilla » by candlelight long enough and hard enough, one will experiment this dynamic blue white oscillation effect, and the switching back and forth of adjacent geometric fieldsWith these hints as a guide, I hope you have an enjoyable moment taking in these works and that the visual experience will give you a sublime interval of reflection.

Berdj Achdjian + Translated by Jim Acko

3-picture2achdjian berdj gallery in Paris antique African and Saharan antique textiles



6 Comments on “Fulani for Tuareg weavings

  1. Any idea why there are strips (on the Arkilla Kirka pieces) that seem to be sewn backwards on this beautiful weaving? I mean if you look closely there are a number of strips that have the thread hanging out. That indicates that the reverse side is the correct display side. However the majority of the weaving has the thread on the other side. I wonder why they made it that way

    • I think I understood what you are meaning. Some threads of wool (in yellow) are hanging out. They have been woven during the fabrication of the Arkilla. These are only on the front. Arkilla Kerka has these kind of pending threads of wool, as kind of dreadlocks. The Peul weavers were using such “dreadlocks” probably for magical purpose.

    • My experience with the arkilla kerka is that the hanging threads are called boki. They are woven into the motif termed the mother of the cloth, as the male component or beard. This explanation came from a Niafunke weaver in 1987. Hope that helps.

      • thanks for your cooperative comments / BOKI for the hanging threads / do you have any idea of the meaning ? it is connected with vegetables ? with animals ? with insects ? with the human body ?

      • As a counterpoint to a design called Mother of the Cloth, the hanging threads, Boki, are beards.

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