From North Africa to South Africa, east to west, yellow is a color of great importance to the people of this vast and diverse land.
In The Primary Colors, Andrew Theroux writes that yellow has a variety of meanings including wisdom, illumination, intuition, power and glory. He notes in Egypt that yellow represents the color of happiness and prosperity, but also the color of the Egyptian Pyramids. Several African flags include yellow, or gold in combinations with red, green, and black. Black represents, "the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong.” Red is the bloodline that links cultures together. Green represents vast vegetation. And gold, or yellow is sunshine. In contrast, for some western cultures yellow can have negative connotations, such as treachery or cowardice, unless it is re-named to gold; for example, Germany’s band of gold means the light to freedom. In Belgium, it represents a lion. The European flag is blue with a circle of golden stars representing the different unions.
For the people of Africa, yellow symbolizes eternal optimism and cyclical rebirth. Gold represents wealth essentially everywhere, but in Africa it represents the richness found in the land—the actual mineral as well as semi-precious and precious stones like the Tiffany Yellow Diamond of South Africa that was mined in 1878, and later cut with ninety facets to bring out its great brilliance.
The human eye is sensitive to yellow more so than any other color in the spectrum. A small accent of yellow can make a big impact--even if it isn’t the print’s base color. It can still influence the characteristics and personality of the design. A little can go a long way; like a bit of sunshine where a small amount on a cloudy day can deliver the necessary dose of vitamin D.
The celebration of sunshine and wealth are prevalent in African textiles. An everyday cotton dress print is often accented with yellow or it’s the main color in the print. As seen in one of the images, the sun is represented not only in the color, but also in the graphic of the print. In Africa, as well as Caribbean cultures, textile prints are often designed and colored patriotically in black, red, green and yellow. Africans are uninhibited and proud of how they adorn themselves in the colors of their countries and heritage. This celebration and fearlessness is contagious and has influenced western designers for decades. American designer Nicole Miller recently released a fair trade collection that features textiles made by Rwandan women made into refreshing skirts, shorts and bracelets whose sunshine yellow won’t bring a drought, but a celebration of life and understanding.
Textiles available at: Princess African Market 622 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11225
Nicole Miller: http://www.nicolemiller.com/