After two weeks here, in a sea of black faces, I took a look in the mirror and almost didn’t recognize myself. I’ve gotten so used to seeing African faces, and so seldom see mirrors, that my own face looked…alien. Strange. I haven’t seen another Asian face since I arrived here. I must be acclimating.
After an eight-hour bus ride from Kumasi to Tamale, we didn’t have time for anything other than a quick dinner and off to bed. We had to be up early the next morning – the bus to Daboya was leaving at 6am so we had to be out the door no later than 5:30am. Which, of course, meant being up even earlier than that. (5am is an hour which should never, NEVER be experienced while on vacation. Unless, of course, you’re staying up that late…)
Anyway, we made it onto the “bus” (crowded minivan) to Daboya. The river had washed out the road, so we had to ford the river in little canoes, then walk up and into the village. There, we encountered a man who led us to another guy who led us to yet a third guy who turned out to be a Peace Corps-trained tour guide. After some chaffering about money, he agreed to take us to a handspinner and to the indigo dyers.
Daboya is a town in northern Ghana which specializes in production of fugu, a blue-and-white robe that is commonly worn in the North. They are the only town left in Northern Ghana (so I’m told) that still does indigo dyeing – the rest import their yarns from Burkina Faso, the country just to the north of Ghana.
Fugu, like kente, are woven in strips, although unlike the Volta Region kente I was weaving, fugu are woven in thinner strips, about 2.5-3″ across. They’re also woven exclusively in plainweave, no elaborate patterns – this is functional clothing, not art. This doesn’t mean that they’re not beautiful, though.
First we went to the old spinning-woman. She showed us how she removes the seeds from the cotton (by hand!), then fluffs up the cotton by plucking a bowstring through it. (Interesting – the Akha hilltribe in Thailand used the same method.) Then she wraps the fluffed cotton loosely around the stick, and spins from that using a support spindle. She spun remarkably quickly and with an even yarn, and apologized that she was spinning so slowly – the floor was too soft for really good spinning. I took some photos, and some video as well.
Best of all, I managed to secure one of her spindles to take home with me! They make the whorls from the black clay mud that is common around there, and this one was decorated with a white spiral in some other substance (talc?). So now I have a Ghanaian support spindle to go with my Akha spindles, and once I get back to Accra I’ll have another set of silver spindles, this time from Ghana. Truly, my spindle collection runneth over.
Then they took us to the indigo dyer, who explained how they import some sort of substance from Burkina Faso, burn it to ashes, then mix in leaves from some local plant (presumably an indigoferous one), let it ferment in a 6-foot-deep pit for several days, and then dip the yarns in for indigo dyeing, as many dips as needed. A vat is good for three days to three weeks, depending on how hot it is – it “sours” much faster in hot weather. They also explained how they use tied-resist to put pattern into their weaves – they take a very long length of yarn, wrap part of it with rope to keep it white, then dip it into the indigo. The result is a long stretch of indigo blue followed by short stretches of white, and produces a cloth that is blue with horizontal white stripes, perfectly spaced and without having to stop and switch out threads. I thought it was pretty cool.
After that it was a long, hot, dusty wait for the 3pm bus to return from Daboya. The one interesting moment was when the bus got flagged down by a man on a motorbike – then there were clanging noises in back. I thought they were maybe trying to haul the motorbike onto the top of the bus (!), but it turned out they were trying to stick a cow into the trunk.
That’s right. A COW.
There were more banging noises and everyone at the back of the bus crammed to the window to watch them trying to put a cow into the trunk of (an admittedly oversize) minivan. I have no idea how they managed it, but they apparently did. Sadly, I did not manage to get a photo, as the cow was removed a few villages later, before I could get out to get a photo. *sigh* I would have liked to have seen that one.
At any rate, that’s the news for today. Tomorrow is Sunday, meaning everything’s closed (Ghana is mostly a Christian nation), so Chuku is going to take me around Tamale and show me the sights, and then Monday morning first thing we’re headed up to Bolgatanga, to check out the market, go to Paga to meet the crocodiles, and go to Sirigu to see the painted houses and the local pottery.