Part 2: How Appliqued Banners were Used in Ancient Times
Original Question (Don’t worry, I will answer it eventually!): I am planning a medieval themed wedding and would like to know the best way to make or buy cloth fabric banners for our celebration?
Answer: Still unpacking the history here in part two –
Use of Appliquéd Cloth in Danhomè History
Originally, because it was the art genre of royalty, most of the older examples of appliquéd cloth banners depict various military campaigns of the king and his assumed name or likeness. An assumed name was one he took upon ascension to the throne, one that typically would reflect how he got there or a god by which he attributed his success or even an animal, such as a lion, that he compared himself to. So, similar to the European coat of arms that featured lions or eagles or bears, the king of the Kingdom of Danhomè also had something that marked his reign as king.
In using appliquéd banners to tell his story artistically, an artist might use a series of banners or pictographs that, in combination with one another, revealed the assumed name of the monarch, similar to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic art. One example given by Professor Joseph Adandé is that a picture might depict a fish, refusal, and a net, representing a fish that escapes from a net, never to return to it and to be free from it. This might be done using a fish facing a net. Or again, it might simply be an animal that the king liked and felt a kinship with, including buffalos, elephants, whales, various birds, lions, or horses, to name a few.
As the reign of a Danhomè king grew longer, the larger the banner became. The banners celebrated various weaponry, original or imported, that were used in the various battles or military campaigns, slaves, and victims.
In the Danhomè kingdom, appliqués were also used for military banners to mark divisions or ranks among the divisions. Appliqué art was also used on court clothing to establish rank of importance within the court, similar to the patches worn by various ranks within the US military today. These appliquéd patches displayed the seal of the officer’s rank, military and/or civil. Appliqué art was used also for religious shrines and ceremonies, as well as the aforementioned funerals of important individuals within the kingdom.
Over time, appliquéd cloth began to be used by the Fon people within the kingdom to celebrate friendship. Probably the best modern example of this is the logo imprinted t-shirts, polo shirts, or back hip tag on blue jeans. It identifies you as a “member” of the “tribe” or group of friends who like a certain brand of shoe or clothing or computers or whatever. However, as with different cultures, the uses were different, and among the Fon people, friends of a deceased person would wear an appliqué extolling the good qualities of the deceased. The meanings of most of the appliquéd messages are unknown to us today.
In Part 3, I’ll discuss the modernization of appliquéd cloth fabric banners and other uses of appliquéd cloth.