Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Making of African Bark Cloth in the Caribbean, 1660s-1920s.


History Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


This study examines one African custom in dress that African slave women retained and nurtured in the Caribbean. It focuses on the making of African bark cloth and the use of plant fibers and pigments in the production and care of clothing for members of the slave population. I argue that a vibrant cottage industry based on African bark cloth and lace-bark developed in response to the insufficient and poor quality of clothing slaves received from their enslavers. Women dominated this industry and it fostered a creative space that allowed them to be expressive in their dress and simultaneously to escape, at least temporarily, the harsh realities of the plantation. The subjects of this study are slave and freed women who were African or of African ancestry living in Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. By the late seventeenth century, a bark industry had developed in the Caribbean that was responsible for producing exquisite bark textiles that were widely popular. Even European royalty acquired these products. The most common form of bark cloth and plant textile was obtained from the laghetto tree known in Cuba as the Daguilla, and in Haiti as bois dentelle.

Conference Name

5Th Global Conference Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues

Conference Location

Oxford University, UK

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