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Bet You Didn’t Know the Significance of These Famous African Prints

When you see the vibrant colours and bold pattern of Ankara fabric, the first thing you think of is Africa. The rich tones and prints seen symbolising all things African. African print. Born and bred. What may surprise you however, is that Ankara is not actually an indigenous African print and actually originated in Indonesia with a method of wax-resistant dying called batik. African soldiers in Indonesia began importing these fabrics back home to West Africa. The Dutch began to make their own, cheaper versions of batik from cotton and sold it to merchants in Africa. Soon the print caught on and years later, came to obtain African symbols and motifs.


This is by far the sweetest of the bunch. The pattern closely resembles sugarcane and is thought to represent love or a person that is as sweet as sugarcane. A man may give this to the woman he loves as a sign of endearment and his love for her, showing it off to the rest of the people.

Sika Wo Antaban

This can loosely be translated to “money has wings.” It serves as a warning and reminder to people that although money may seem bottomless, it has the ability to leave you with nothing and fly away. It is advised to spend it wisely and keep it close to your pocket so it doesn’t fly away.

You Fly, I Fly

Very similar to the previous pattern, this print sports birds in a cage. This meaning however has nothing to do with money and is seen to symbolise love between two newly weds. The print is worn to symbolise their escape from their homes into a new one created by married life. It represents their new married life and the support and love they give one another. On a more mischevious note, the print has also been said to serve as a warning to the husband.


The meaning of the portrait Ankara pattern is pretty self explanatory. It is used to pay homage to someone of particular importance, to celebrate and support them. The portrait print began in 1956 with Queen Elizabeth’s visit. To give her a warm welcome, her portrait was printed on wax prints and given to citizens to show their respect for her. Since then, several important figures can be seen printed on Ankara cloth, including Barack Obama in the 2017 Supreme African print collection.


Nsubra is the Akan word for a well. The print symbolises a well and the dots are an image of the ripples you see in a well when water is fetch or something else enters. This is definately one of the most popular of Ankara prints and can be seen in a variety of colours world-wide. To attest to its popularity, I, all the way in South Africa, own this very print in blue and pink.


The symbol of the fan came as one of modernity when electronic fans came to Africa. Along with fans, prints of telephones were also used to symbolise modernity. This however changed over the years with the coming of air conditioners and mobile phones. The fans thus came to be a symbol of the past.

Darling, don’t turn your back on me

The story of this print is by far my favorite. This print is known to Toga women as “darling, don’t turn your back on me” and was used by women who felt their partners no longer longed for them anymore. Although the print is bright and hosts a somewhat ‘relaxing’ pattern, it holds a cynical meaning and also serves as a desperate plea and warning to other women.

Author: zandimhlekwa

1 comment on “Bet You Didn’t Know the Significance of These Famous African Prints

  1. Very interesting

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