TRADITIONAL TEXTILES OF NIGERIA

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Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a sovereign country located in West Africa bordering Niger in the north, Chad in the northeast, Cameroon in the east, and Benin in the west. Nigeria is a federal republic comprising 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, where the capital, Abuja, is located. A multinational state, Nigeria is inhabited by more than 250 ethnic groups with over 500 distinct languages all identifying with a wide variety of cultures. The three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the west, and Igbo in the east; comprising over 60% of the total population. The official language of Nigeria is English, chosen to facilitate linguistic unity at the national level. Nigeria is divided roughly in half between Muslims, who live mostly in the north, and Christians, who live mostly in the south.

TEXTILES:

ADIRE CLOTH:

The earliest pieces of this type were probably simple tied designs on cotton cloth hand spun and woven locally (rather like those still produced in Mali), but in the early decades of the 20th century new access to large quantities of imported shirting material via the spread of European textile merchants in Abeokuta and other Yoruba towns caused a boom in these women’s entrepreneurial and artistic efforts, making adire a major local craft in Abeokuta and Ibadan, attracting buyers from all over West Africa.

Today, there are three primary resist techniques used in Nigeria:

Onikan: This process involves tying raffia around hundreds of individual corn kernels or pebbles to produce small white circles on a blue background. The fabric can also be twisted and tied on itself or folded into stripes.

Alabere: Stitching raffia onto the fabric in a pattern prior to dyeing. The raffia palm is stripped, and the spine sewn into the fabric. After dyeing the raffia is usually ripped out, although some choose to leave it in and let wear and tear on the garment slowly reveal the design.

Eleko: Resist dyeing with cassava paste painted onto the fabric. Traditionally done with different size chicken feathers, calabash carved into different designs are also used, in a manner similar to block printing. Since the early twentieth century, metal stencils cut from the sheets of tin that lined tea chests have also been used.

ASE OKE:

Ase Oke is a cloth named after a Yoruba salutation meaning “greetings on the spending of money”.

It is woven exclusively by men on narrow strip looms from cotton or silk. It is important to Yoruba men and women since they lend visual splendour as well as social prestige to both the wearer and the weaver. It is one of the glorious ‘prestige’ fabrics woven on narrow strip looms by Yoruba men in Nigeria. Ase Oke often feature complicated lace like patterns which were incorporated into weaves when imported lace was not available from England during World War II. Other designs feature gold and silver metallic threads. Ase Oke is worn by both men and women.

Types of traditional Ase oke worn by Yoruba people are the following:

Alaari – A rich red aso oke.
Sanyan – A brown and usually light brown aso oke.
Etu – A dark blue aso oke.

AGBADA CLOTH:

Agbada is one of the names for a flowing wide-sleeved robe worn by men in much of West Africa, and to a lesser extent in North Africa, related to the dashiki suit. Agbada is usually decorated with intricate embroidery, and is worn on special religious or ceremonial occasions, such as the two Islamic Eid festivals, weddings, funerals or for attending the Mosque for Friday prayer. It has become the formal attire of many countries in West Africa. Older robes have become family heirlooms passed on from father to son and are worn as status symbols.

The garments is known by various names in different ethnic groups and languages that adopted it from the original babban riga of the Hausa People, called agbada in Yoruba, boubou from Wolof mbubb, mbubb in Wolof, gandora in Tuareg, darra’a in Maghrebi Arabic, grand boubou in various French-speaking West African countries and the English term gown. The Senegalese boubou, a variation on the grand boubou described below, is also known as the Senegalese kaftan. The female version worn in some communities is also known as an m’boubou or kaftan or wrapper.

OKENE CLOTH:

Okene Cloth is a woven cloth, woven at the loom in Okene by the Ebira people. Okene is a town located in the central senatorial district of Kogi State in Nigeria. The town is based in a Local Government Area with the same name. The predominant ethnolinguistic group in this area are the Ebira of Central Nigeria. The Ebira people are known to be a very extrovert and hardworking people. Traditionally they are farmers and cloth-weavers.

Ebira Women have been weaving Okene Cloth for centuries. The local name for Okene Cloth is Ita-inochi. This woven cloth has been traded in the Okene main market from time immemorial, and people travel from far and wide to purchase the beautiful cloth, which varies from a simple weave to more sophisticated patterns. A variety of threads is used to weave the cloth which gives rise to the different names for the cloth woven. For instance the name Ache Ohu is derived from Ohu thread, Ache silk is derived from silk thread.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigeria
https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/the-fabric-of-africa-african-heritagehouse/xwISIFA_fBjSIA?hl=en
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adire_(textile_art)
https://www.ozozalifestyle.com/blogs/african-heritage-projects/a-history-of-okenecloth-weaving

Article Written by

Kucherlapati Divya Bharathi
Masters in Fashion Management
National Institute of Fashion Technology – Chennai
Intern at TVC