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Collecting in Benin

A textile piece from northern Benin is a new addition to the Horniman's Anthropology Collection, as result of the Horniman Museum Collecting Initiative.

The piece was commissioned earlier this year by Sam Nixon of the University of East Anglia, as part of the ERC-funded project Crossroads of Empires, which aims to explore Archaeology, material culture and sociopolitical relationships in West Africa.

Sam updates us on how the piece was commissioned and made:

The textile commissioned is a ‘wedding blanket’ (Babbagi), both worn and used for decorating the home. It was made by Tanda Hamani, a retired weaver, who also made the loom to produce it.

  • Collecting in Benin, Constructing the loom, Photo by Sam Nixon
    Constructing the loom, Photo by Sam Nixon

Tanda already possessed various loom components, and shuttles.

  • Collecting in Benin, Photo by Sam Nixon
    , Photo by Sam Nixon
  • Collecting in Benin, Photo by Sam Nixon
    , Photo by Sam Nixon

Although the textile was made in a cotton producing area, the cotton Tanda used actually came from neighbouring Niger. No textiles had been made in the weaver’s household for seven years.

  • Collecting in Benin, Photo by Sam Nixon
    , Photo by Sam Nixon

The blanket was woven in narrow strips, which would then be sewn together.

  • Collecting in Benin, Photo by Sam Nixon
    , Photo by Sam Nixon

Each strip has to be carefully created with a view as to how it fits into the overall design.

  • Collecting in Benin, Photo by Sam Nixon
    , Photo by Sam Nixon

  • Collecting in Benin, Photo by Sam Nixon
    , Photo by Sam Nixon

After some two weeks, with all strips completed, they were unrolled and divided up, the ‘unwoven’ gaps defining the individual strips cut to free them.

  • Collecting in Benin, Dividing the woven strips so they can be combined into the finished pattern, Photo by Sam Nixon
    Dividing the woven strips so they can be combined into the finished pattern, Photo by Sam Nixon

Sewing the strips together completes the design developing in the weaver’s mind. Eventually they combine to create a mosaic of colour and design.

  • Collecting in Benin, Stiching the completed strips of textile together to form the final piece, Photo by Sam Nixon
    Stiching the completed strips of textile together to form the final piece, Photo by Sam Nixon

  • Collecting in Benin, The finished textile, Photo by Sam Nixon
    The finished textile, Photo by Sam Nixon

The textile was kindy modelled for us, showing the central square motif on the back.

  • Collecting in Benin, Photo by Sam Nixon
    , Photo by Sam Nixon
  • Collecting in Benin, Photo by Sam Nixon
    , Photo by Sam Nixon

Accompanying the ‘wedding blanket’ in the Horniman collection will be film footage, photographs, and a report by the supervising researchers (Lucie Smolderen, Université Libre de Bruxelles, and Romuald Tchibozo, Université Abomey-Calavi).