By Adwoa Afful
During my early childhood, my Ghanaian immigrant parents decided to move our family to the north Toronto neighbourhood of Jane and Finch. Jane and Finch hosts one of the largest Ghanaian communities in the city, so I became quite accustomed to seeing small parades of women (and occasionally their spouses and children) covered head to toe in African print fabrics.
While we lived there, I barely took notice of these women or the beautiful multicoloured and intricately patterned textiles they dressed themselves in. I also grew up in a household where what seemed like small mountains of similar fabrics were haphazardly arranged in cardboard boxes and large Rubbermaid bins and stored in the basement. Usually they would sit there for years. During epic bouts of spring cleaning, I would mentally label them as “Ghana Stuff,” and then put them back where I had found them.
I mostly took these fabrics for granted, and rarely thought of their potential cultural significance. I was equally apathetic about their origins and history. In my mind, the fabrics were sent to us in big brown airmail packages from relatives in Ghana, and so were Ghanaian. Then, last year, I read Eccentric Yoruba’s excellent post “African Fabrics: The History of Dutch Wax Prints” on the blog Beyond Victoriana: a multicultural perspective on Steampunk. It seems that the fabrics that I had thoughtlessly labeled as “Ghana Stuff,” were actually the products of an interwoven (pun intended) history of the West African, Indonesian, and Dutch textile manufacturing industries.