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Dyeing: Indigo Dyeing in Sierra Leone

Although many crops have played colorful roles throughout history, indigo appears to be the most colorful. Dyeing with indigo can be traced as far back as 7000 BCE, and is still widespread even today. This form of dyeing using various plant species is practiced in many countries and continents throughout the world, for example, in Mexico, Europe, Egypt, West Africa, Sumatra, Central Asia, Japan, the Americas and China (Adrosko 1968; Fox and Pierce 1990; Pettit 1974). Ancient Britons and other Europeans obtained the dye from Isatis tinctoria (woad) but later Indigofera from India and other Eastern countries. Indigofera tinctoria is native to India and Africa, while Indigofera anil of Central and South America, and I. suffructicosa is a native tropical American species adopted in Africa (Pettit 1974). Indigo is a vat dye (Vat Blue1), produced without mordants by a process consisting of a complex series of chemical reactions for the dye to be successful.