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Nineteenth-century Segu was identified across the Sahel with the lomasa, a term that translates simply as “clothing dyed a dark color.” This genre of untailored male luxury garment is defined by a lavish use of indigo-dyed cotton accentuated with a flourish of dazzling embroidery. Dyed by women, the stitched detail was applied by male specialists using imported colored silk threads. While the original significance of the abstract curvilinear designs is unknown, the spiral that is always on the garment’s right side is thought to be related to the serpent in ancient Ghana’s Wagadu epic.

Lomasa, Cotton, dye

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© Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY