Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fon Story Cloth from Benin | Make a Fon Story Cloth Craft {With Printable Template}


Our latest West African textile craft comes from the Republic of Benin: Fon appliqué story cloth.

The Fon kingdom of Dahomey began in the 17th century, and by the early 18th century reached the peak of their power and wealth through the slave trade. Introduced in the 17th century, appliqué cloths were commissioned by the Fon kings as royal cloths to express the power and authority of their kingdom. Colorful pictographs are cut from colorful fabric and appliquéd to a larger cloth, usually black. These cloths were used as wall hangings, banners, umbrellas and tents. The pictographs used were symbols depicting the kings - whether by representing a story extolling the might & character of the king, the means by which the prince ascended to the throne, or a piece of significant history that occurred during the king's reign. They were also made to commemorate victories in battles. You can see various examples of Fon appliqué story cloths here. In a culture where oral tradition is norm, these cloths are a great visual means of preserving history.

Adapted from CC photo by Lia

A common pattern for the Fon appliqued cloths are the cloths representing the "kings in great numbers", all featuring the same pictographs that represent each king that ruled in their kingdom. This pattern continues to be popular today. The above cloth is the easiest example demonstrating the kings' pictographs, outlined as they are with names and dates of when they ruled. For example, the first king (top left corner) is represented by a bird renown for its greed - symbolizing how as a prince he left nothing to his opponent. The 3rd king (third from left, top row) is represented by a fish and a trap, referring to that prince's history of having escaped after being caught in a trap. The sailboat represents the fact that the first contact with European sailors in the kingdom of Dahomey was during this king's reign. You can read about what each of these pictographs represent here

With time these cloths were not only for royalty, but also used to celebrate friendship at funerals. It was the custom for friends of the same age group to order an appliquéd cloth for the deceased as a means of extolling that person's qualities.

These days, the cloths are still made by select artisans, though mostly for tourists, whether with the kings pattern or with new symbols that no longer represent royalty. 

Make a Fon Story "Cloth"

The history of the Dahomey kingdom is rather brutal, and as stated above made its wealth through the slave trade. For these reasons, we decided to deviate from making royal "cloths" for our craft. We looked up proverbs from Benin and tried to represent them. Other inspiration to make your own: using symbolism to represent your character or an significant event in yours or your family's life; representing a friend of your age group; or even a basic illustration of a folktale or story you like. 

In our case, we decided to forgo sewing and glued our felt pictographs onto black cardstock. They could of course be glued or sewn onto more felt.




What you need:

  • An idea of what you want to represent :)
  • Colorful felt
  • Black cardstock or felt
  • White glue
  • Printable templates of animals that could be used (should you need inspiration) that can be found here.
Once you have determine what you would like to represent, making a story cloth is rather simple - cut out your designs from colorful felt and glue it to a piece of black cardstock or felt.


Elle chose to represent this Beninese proverb with butterflies: "Anyone who sees beauty and does not look at it will soon be poor".


The leopard is used the represent this Beninese proverb: "Before you ask a man for clothes, look at the clothes that he is wearing." (With the premise of our own saying that a leopard doesn't change its spots).

I hope you have the chance to make your own Fon story cloth. We'd love to see a picture if you do, be sure to share it on our Facebook page

Find our other posts exploring West African Textiles here.

You can find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at

Find more creative and enriching activities at the following linkups:

10 comments:

  1. I do love felt boards, we've done some a couple of times just because I like them, but I hadn't thought to tie it in to geography.

    So, I was just realizing with ya'll studying West Africa, are you looking at anything with the West Nile virus?

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    1. I hadn't even thought of the West Nile Virus... though we have been talking a great deal about Ebola!

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    2. I wondered if you would look into Ebola at all.
      I love your cloth - simple but very pretty. I also enjoy your explanations behind the crafts that you do.

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    3. I think this would be a better visual project with more kids involved, each doing up a sheet, and taping them together as one large "cloth".

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  2. The girls' creations are so pretty! I like the idea of taking a proverb for inspiration. Learning and cultural appreciation on lots of levels!

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    Replies
    1. It's always a good bet to go in with two birds, one stone so to speak with these girls :)

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  3. What a wonderful craft!! I love it!!

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