Monday, April 28, 2008

In the previous session, we went over the general history of the pagne and how to wear it. Now I’d like to go into more detail on its many other uses.

1 Baby carrier- The normal position for a baby is tied firmly to her mother’s back with a pagne. Even a newborn is easily carried this way- or at least, the ladies here make it look easy. It takes years of practise to do it really well and girls here start practising early on. You often see toddlers walking around with a corn cob or stick tied onto their back as a makeshift doll. They grow up to be quite skilful, able to do all kinds of tasks with a baby on board.

The child is balanced on the mom’s back and then the pagne is tied or tucked in at the top and bottom corners . From the front, all you see is the pagne covering the mom’s front and a little foot sticking out over each of her hips.

I can attest that it’s quite comfortable for the mom and the children get used to it pretty quickly.

Babies get their arms tucked inside the cloth, so it works like swaddling and , indeed, they do seem to find it soothing. Toddlers get tied on with their arms out. Watch out for hair-pulling, is my advice on that.

2. Gift- The pagne is a great, much appreciated gift in any social setting! If you are invited to a local wedding, you can’t go wrong bringing a set of three pagnes. Ot two or three sets, according to your budget. And as pagnes vary in price from two dollars each to more than 14 dollars each, there really is a lot of choice. Hint: Super Wax Hollandais is THE big name in pagne-dom and expect to pay big bucks. 50 dollars for three pagnes is a common starting point for haggling. If you get down to about 38, you've done well

3. Sunshade- The infrastructure, such as there is, is not really set up for anyone’s comfort. Yes, there are nice, cheap public buses, but the bus stops are often just a metal sign out in the middle of a dusty plain. Not a bench or a stick of shade in sight. In this situation, and the many others that resemble it, a bit of portable shape is very useful.

4. Sand storm protection- The winds of February bring the Harmattan- a strong gale that carries a huge load of Saharan sand. Visibility goes down to nearly zero. Everybody heads for cover. If you are out when it hits, it’s nice to have something to wrap around your head to keep the worst of the dust out.

5. Seating adjustment- wooden benches are always locally made and often boast problematic nails and splinters. And even when they are not frankly dangerous, they are often dirty. And even the clean ones can be uncomfortable, especially if you are a nassara (foreigner) with a bony behind. Having a nice, thick, folded square of cloth to sit on can be a great help- especially if you are invited to a formal event ( wedding, mask festival, etc) where you may be expected to sit for long periods of time.

These are the main uses that a typical expat will find for their pagne. Of course, they are also good for padding the top of your head when you carry a heavy object- but that’s really not to be attempted by the novice.

The final and most sophisticated use of a pagne:

6. Communication!!

Yes, the pattern you wear can send a message! Many pagnes are designed every year. Some of them die out, but some of the patterns become very popular. They even get a name. It might be a simple descriptive word like Ventilateur (for a pagne depicting fans) , L'ordinateur (computer) ot telephone-portables (cell phones!).
Others are much more abstract and complicated. They are phrases like: Si tu sors, je sors. (If you go out, I'm going out), Ton pied ,mon pied. (your foot, my foot) Mon mari est capable (My husband is capable). Maîtresse, laisse-moi mon mari.(Mistress, leave my husband alone) Six bougies (six candles), Gombo-noir (Black Gumbo), Tais-toi-jaloux (Shut up, jealous one!) Dévaluation, Stop-SIDA (Stop HIV/AIDS), Je-cours-plus-vite-que-ma-rivale (I run faster than my rival)..... These are instantly recognisable classics that send a message. If you wear "Mon mari est capable", it is a compliment to your husband's abilities as a provider. But 'Ton Pied, Mon Pied" is a warning to a spouse that if he keeps being unfaithful, his wife will "follow in his footsteps" and cheat, too. So, by choosing one of these patterns to wear, a woman "talks" to her husband, co-wives, her husband's mistresses and her neighbors.

This one is called "The eye of my co-wife" It's all very fascinating and probably seems a bit tricky to navigate. But don't worry that you'll get into trouble for wearing the "wrong" pagne. Just ask if the pagne has a name when you buy it. Most of them don't, especially the less expensive ones.

And that's pretty much what I know about pagnes. Sorry I didn't post it yesterday. I was busy with several projects, which will be the subject of tomorrow's post.


babzee said...

I'll let you know whether I can spark a new trend in Marietta, Georgia, USA. (I'm guessing not...) This would be SO great for the summer months!

Catherine said...


I will be leaving Canada on May 10th for my internship in Ouaga. I was looking at the Papiers du Sahel website and I was just wondering if I would be able to visit while I am in Burkina Faso? It looks amazing and I would love to get a chance to meet the women who work there and see what they do, and help out in any way I can!

Let me know!



BurkinaMom said...

Glad you like the looks of the project! It would be great to see you there. Papiers is located in the Village Artisanal- a well-known Ouaga craft center.
You can call me when you arrive:
76 55 70 17. We can see about meeting up.

Catherine said...

Sounds great!