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African Textile Stories

Our published stories about African textiles and beads

Magie Relph and Bob Irwin have travelled the length and breadth of Africa for over 30 years, researching, buying and documenting African textiles, fabrics and beads.

In addition to our acclaimed book African Wax Print: A Textile Journey, we continue to write informative and entertaining articles for numerous magazines.

These stories mean a lot to us. They document our adventures and record the textile traditions we've learned about from artisans and traders all over Africa.

Here are a few of our published stories in PDF format. We hope you enjoy them.

About PDF documents 

By default, most browsers open PDF documents in a new browser tab, which is not always ideal. If a PDF does not appear clearly in your browser, we recommend saving the PDF to your device and then reopening it in your PDF viewer - in most cases Adobe Acrobat or the Apple Preview app.

Magie Relph and Bob Irwin in Pemba, Moçambique Magie Relph and Bob Irwin doing research in Pemba, Moçambique

Prospecting for Missanga in Moçambique

The fabled Indian Ocean island of Ilha de Moçambique was once one of Africa's richest trading ports. 500 years ago Portuguese vessels left laden with ivory, spices and slaves, bartered for with trade beads from Europe and the East. Those beads - known as missanga - still wash up on the shore here from the thousands of ships that lay wrecked on the sea bed.

We joined Gasolina - a missanga hunter - as he looked for treasure on the beach below the island's iconic trading fort.

Words and images © Robert Irwin

Read and print story Prospecting for Missanga in Moçambique

Bead Society Journal, 2018

For activities and guides on Ilha de Moçambique, we recommend a small, friendly ecotourism organisation: Ilha Blue Island Safaris

Looking for trade beads and treasure © Robert Irwin Missanga hunter Gasolina prospecting for treasure on Ilha de Moçambique

Korhogo: meet the textile Picasso's of Côte d'Ivoire

In 2017 we travelled to Korhogo in northern Côte d'Ivoire. This is the home of the eponymous handpainted Korhogo cloths which we sell here on our website. Painting Korhogo is an astounding process, as Picasso discovered when he went there in the 1930s.

Words and images © Robert Irwin

Read and print story Korhogo

The Quilter, Issue 154, Spring 2018

Painting Korhogo cloth © Robert Irwin Fakaha, Côte d'Ivoire: Korhogo artist Soro Navanga at work

Meet the Expert: Magie Relph

Jane Rae - features editor of Today's Quilter - is an avid enthusiast of world textiles. In 2016 she interviewed Magie for an exclusive supplement highlighting world textiles, fair trade and the seven World Textile Days we help organise annually in England, Scotland and Wales.

Words and images © Jane Rae and Today's Quilter

Read and print story Meet the Expert: Magie Relph

Today's Quilter, 2016

Magie Relph and Bob Irwin near Awramba, Ethiopia Magie Relph and Bob Irwin near Awramba, Ethiopia

Rock of Ages: Ghana's Ancient Bauxite Beads

In the hills around Abompe, Ghana, artisans like Asanti Amishadi use ancient tools and techniques to carve beads out of bauxite stone - just as they've done for centuries.

Words and images © Robert Irwin

Read and print story Rock of Ages

Bead Society Journal, 2016

Drilling bauxite beads Abombe GhanaAsanti Amishade drilling bauxite stone beads: Abompe, Ghana

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