The first time I met Ritva Lundberg was in Bakau in Gambia in 2002. I was there as a tourist and Ritva, who had been living there periodically for three years, became my guide to the country and introduced me to her friends. It was the interest in West African music that drew Ritva and her husband to Gambia in 1999 and they immediately fell in love with the culture. They spend a few months in Gambia every year, bringing its culture and way of life back to Sweden when they return, for example, Ritva often dresses in African fabrics in Sweden but in clothes made with western designs. It is still quite unusual in Sweden to wear this kind of fabric and it is easy to spot Ritva in a crowd. It is always exciting to see her choice of clothing, as she is literally wearing a piece of beautiful art.
“I always receive compliments on my style of clothing and my colleagues say that it is fun, as I add a splash of colour to the workplace, since the Swedish people usually dress so colourless”. The clothes in Gambia, on the other hand, are known for being very colourful and they are often made through tie-dye.
Ritva Lundberg at one of her art vernissages in Sweden.
“Cuub” is the word for tie-dyed clothes in Wolof, one of the main tribe languages in Gambia. Ritva tells me that cuub is the traditional way to decorate clothes and when you walk the streets of Gambia you see a lot of people wearing those patterns. Originally the Gambian people used plant colours to create the batik and the patterns were usually quite small. Nowadays, the colours are synthetic and patterns, colours and techniques are numerous, but the old patterns are still used and popular, beside the new ones.
This is three examples of Gambian tie-dye fabrics
Ritva Lundberg loves the colourfulness and the diversity in the Gambian fabrics and explains that there are thousands of colour combinations and patterns. When I visited a market in Banjul with her, it was the colours of clothing that made the greatest impression on me. Ritva usually buys her printed cotton fabrics at the big markets in Banjul or in the markets of Serrekunda since they have the largest assortment. However, the batik clothes she prefers to buy are from a batik maker named Fatou Sanneh.”I happened to get a good price from her once at the market in Serrekunda, where I gradually became her regular customer and started to visit her home to do my shopping”. Fatou also makes batik on order so you can get exactly the colours and patterns you want. “However, her prices for the special ordered batik patterns are not as low, but on the other hand, her fabrics are of extremely high quality”.
Another interesting thing about the clothing in Gambia is that the women usually dress in the same patterns for big family feasts. “The women wear something called ‘asobi’, a kind of uniform, where the clothes are made out of the same patterned fabric, however, the design can vary. Sometimes even the men get an asobi in the same pattern, but this is not that common”. It is custom that the family who hosts the party buys all the fabric for the guests’ clothes. The choice of the fabric indicate the level of wealth of the family.
A big thanks to Ritva Lundberg for the information and the photos used in this post.