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History of Traditional Indigo Dyeing, indigo plant contains indican

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Although the dye can be prepared by a variety of methods, the fundamental chemistry of the process remains the same. Essentially the indigo dye is the product of a fermentation reaction catalyzed by bacteria, in an alkaline environment provided by caustic soda, and released from their glucoside, indican.

The indigo plant contains indican a kind of ester or glucose compound of indoxyl. On fermentation by bacterial species present on the plant, indican is hydrolyzed by an enzyme to indoxyl, which is then oxidized to the blue insoluble indigotin, then reduced to the white soluble indigo (leuco indigo), and after dyeing cloth, reoxidized to indigo again on the fabric as shown in, 1822 Many ancient cultures in various parts of the world used stale urine to provide the reducing agent, urea.


Natural indigo dyeing was a very thriving local industry in Sierra Leone, part of the indigenous economy that provided livelihoods for a large number of people in various parts of the country. Although these traditional methods of dye production have al most been driven to commercial extinction, dyeing with synthetic indigo and a wide variety of other colors is booming, serving not only the local, but the international market as well. In this study, the indigenous practices were documented before they are com pletely lost.

Different methods are used for the production of indigo dye in Sierra Leone. It is clear that in all the seven procedures gara leaves and Morinda germinata roots are the main ingredients. Other ingredients provide some variability to the main method used; e.g., the use of Mangifera and Jatropha ostensibly to enhance the color. It is quite possible that some of these other ingredients are acting as mordants; e.g., the roots of Morinda germinata are reported to serve as a fixing agent for the indigo dye. It has been shown that although this Morinda germinata has a very positive effect on the dyeing intensity, the plant does not have any reducing activity; and does not significantly affect hydrolysis of indican, the precursor of indigo. It is possible that the indoxyl released from indican is not oxidized to the insoluble indigo form-it serves as an antioxidant, rather than a reducing agent. These days, some dyers also use a small amount of the synthetic indigo dye to darken the hue.

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