Commercial relations between the Brazilian territory and the African continent were frequent during the colonisation period in Brazil. Due to the return of some Africans to their homeland in the 17th century, many products from the African Atlantic coast arrived in the country, even receiving a reference to the coast in their nomenclature. Therefore, the Pano da Costa (also known as the Pano de Alaká) was incorporated into the Brazilian reality (Lody, 2015).
It is estimated that thousands of these textiles were brought to Brazil, mainly from Nigeria, one of the most consumed African products in Bahia between the 18th and 19th centuries (Lody, 2015). With different shapes and styles, the Pano da Costa became one of the most expressive elements in the clothing of the first generations of Afro-Brazilians.
The Fabric And Its Uses
The Pano da Costa was initially produced on manual looms made of wood, on which women worked standing while men worked seated. The textile can be woven into strips approximately 15 cm wide with threads made from cotton, silk or raffia (IPAC, 2009). These strips are sewn together, making up the desired fabric width.
The fabric was adopted into Candomblé rituals in Brazil. Thus, the Pano da Costa is associated with the Orixas deity of Yoruba African mythology, which strongly symbolises religion. The fabric can be worn above the shoulders, tied back or to the side, above the bust, or at waist height.
From the 19th century, this textile became a characteristic element of the Creole traditional dress.
Traje e Crioula
The Traje de Crioula (Creole Traditional Dress) is also known as the Traje de Baiana (Baiana Traditional Dress). Although it refers to Bahia in its name, it was common to find these female figures in places like Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Minas Gerais, in the 19th century (IPAC, 2009). The outfit consisted of a slim fabric shirt, voluminous skirts and turbans.
The clothing mixes European and Afro-Islamic elements, composing an aesthetic globally recognised as Afro-Brazilian. As part of these women were merchants, they ascended economically. They used jewellery like the famous balangandãs, in addition to the already mentioned use of the Pano da Costa above their garments (Lody, 2015).
Custodians Of The Craft
In Brazil, one of the best-known artisans is Mestre Abdias do Sacramento Nobre, who was responsible for learning the technique and preserving this cloth-making culture. For a long time, only Mestre Abdias dominated the way of producing the Pano da Costa, since there were no new generations interested in this process (IPAC, 2009). The technique was almost extinct in the country.
In 1984, the craftsman and his daughter introduced courses at Casa do Alaká, a space inside one of the best-known Candomblé houses in Bahia, the Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá. At that place, they were able to teach the technique to new artisans and thus collaborated to keep this tradition alive in Brazil (IPAC, 2009).
By Ana Rafaella Oliveria, Africa's Young Fashion Leaders Fellow (Research and Development) at the Council for International African Fashion Education
LODY, Raul. Moda e História: As Indumentárias das Mulheres de Fé. São Paulo. Editora Senac São Paulo, 2015.
IPAC, Secretaria de Cultura. Pano da Costa. Salvador. IPAC; Fundação Pedro Calmon, 2009.
MONTEIRO, Aline. Saias de crioula: a roupa como cultura material. III Encontro Nacional de Estudos da Imagem. 2011. Available at: http://www.uel.br/eventos/eneimagem/anais2011/trabalhos/pdf/Aline%20O.%20Temerloglou%20Monteiro.pdf. Accessed on: 6 Dec. 2022.
OKASAKI, A. Tecidos africanos e africanizados nos candomblés paulistas. Revista de Ensino em Artes, Moda e Design, Florianópolis, v. 5, n. 3, p. 279-300, 2021. DOI: 10.5965/25944630532021279. Available at: https://www.revistas.udesc.br/index.php/ensinarmode/article/view/20132. Accessed on: 6 Dec. 2022.
Image Credits: IPAC, 2009