Indigo: More Beautiful With Time
There is an old story that comes from Western Africa that tells of a time when the sky was closer to the earth. And this story is also of a woman who lived in the land near the Niger River who yearned for beauty. She hungered for her hair and nails to be as blue as the edges of splitting thunder and for her simple white clothing to be as blue as the hanging night. She longed for the sky.
Now in those times, bits of the sky could be eaten and rolled around in the jaw. And the sky would melt and spread its cobalted and azured body all through the brave mouth. And if you swallowed? Well that was brave mouth indeed. But it was a brave mouth who tried such a thing because to eat the sky was dangerous and some said that it was forbidden entirely. But this woman had her longing for the sky and for blue beauty push past any trepidation she might have had. And hand over hand and foot over foot she climbed the tallest tree in the darkest of night. And she reached up and took a taste. And it was good. And she could feel her hair starting to tinge as the flavor spread. And she ate more. And more. And she swallowed it all and she became drunk with sky.
The gods didn’t like this and in the morning they withdrew the sky to the distance it is today from all of us. The sky wouldn’t be eaten again. But this woman wouldn’t and couldn’t forget. She had children and those children had children and they all were told of the blue of their matrilineal ancestor and they all longed for a way to satisfy that true desire for a blued beauty again. And so they answered the call by learning the way of dying with indigo. And so it has been ever since.
It would be too simple to say that this story is a punishment story. The story is a story of liberation and marriage to place. This rupture of the sky being drawn away made those ancient ones learn the land and coax the blue on earth. I’d make the case that maybe these are the sorts of mythic and initiatory rites that are mandatory to make beauty in the time and place you find yourself in.
Now, there is nothing like a true piece of indigo textile. And I’ve held a few. The color is so rarified no matter what saturation level you find. Dense, dappled, rich even when faded. And old indigo? It is too good. The history of indigo is remarkable, blood soaked, beautiful and complicated and long to tell. But I’ll just offer this tiny piece of the story where it intersects with Primal Derma a little bit and our devotion to the meeting ground of human endeavor and animals.
In India and in West Africa, where the indigo tradition is rich, cow urine is used as a required element for the fermentation process. Animals are again seen as intrinsic to the human yearning for making beauty and being bound to place, as we try to do too with Primal Derma and remembering these old traditions.
Watch this short video on the fading tradition of indigo in Japan and wonder how strong the yearning for this blue must be, and all it embodies to take on such stunning labors.