The significance of the color blue for Africans

Indigo in Africa

“Indigo grows wild in almost every part of the African Coast … Besides the Indigo, there is another plant which the natives use as a blue dye, which appears to impart a more indelible color, and which, should it stand the test of experiment, might also be cultivated.”

–British Report of the Committee of the African Institution: West African Produce, 25 March 1808
Africans have used indigo for centuries as symbol of wealth and fertility. Indigo-dyed cotton cloth excavated from caves in Mali date to the 11th century and many of the designs are still used by modern West Africans. The Tauregs, “blue men” of the Sahara, are famous for their indigo robes, turbans, and veils that rub blue pigment into their skin. Yoruba dyers of Nigeria produce indigo cloth called adire alesso using both tie-and-dye and resist dye techniques, while honoring Iya Mapo, as the patron god of their exacting craft. Dyers of the Kanuri (Cameroon and Nigeria) and Fulani (modern Niger and Burkina-Faso) ethnic groups popularized indigo near Lake Chad and through portions of West Africa.

Most African dyers are women including among the Yoruba, the Malike and Dogan of Mali, and the Soninke of Senegal. Dyeing is also performed by men among the Mossi (Burkina-Faso) and the Hausa, who have produced indigo-dyed textiles in the ancient city of Kano (Northern Nigeria) since the 15th century.

— Content from Slaves in America


Question Bridge

The West Harlem Art Fund and the African Burial Ground are proud to have the organizers of The Question Bridge Project comment on the works of Patrick Singh. The Question Bridge is a national project and exhibition that will come to the Brooklyn Museum in January, 2012. The exhibition explores the issue of identity for and by Black males in America.

Gumboot Juba

Dianne Smith, one of the commentators for Westward Bound is an accomplished artist and teacher herself. In collaboration with the West Harlem Art Fund and Armory Week 2011, the window installation Gumboot Juba was presented. Juba, Pattin’ Juba or Guiba is the name of the dance (of West African influence) the slaves did on southern plantations, in the Caribbean and Dutch Guiana. The sounds and movement took the place of the drums.

Please view the images of this stunning installation that was seen at the Mink Building in West Harlem.


Video interviews by Columbia University

Mapping the African American Past is the product of a grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. The site was produced by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) in partnership with Columbia University’s Teachers College and Creative Curriculum Initiatives (CCI).


4 Dowoti Desir
20 Kenneth Jackson


Wherever man goes to dwell his character goes with him ….African proverb

QR Code Multimedia Guide
CLICK ABOVE There are twenty-three symbols on the permanent outdoor memorial. Above are QR codes that will link listeners to a guide of each symbol. The podcasts were produced by National Park Service, Manhattan Sites.

The emotional importance of the African Burial Ground

Ranger Doug Massenburg is captured in this haunting video produced by the National Parks Conservation Association.