The Yorùbá Blues – the unspoken Language of Yorùbá indigo textiles. 28 July 2017

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I’ve been invited to deliver another CIAD, Costume Institute of the African Diaspora Exchange talk. This time I’m focussing on my wonderful Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship in Nigeria, where I studied indigo dyeing techniques amongst Yorùbá artisans.  Àdírẹ is the Yorùbá word for the resist dyed cloth made in Yorùbá towns in Nigeria. The cloth functions both as an aesthetic expression and a means of communication, offering a deep insight into Yorùbá religion, culture, folklore, and history.  The talk includes short videos, photography, and music. 

The event will be held at London College of Fashion, Rootstein Hopkins Space, 20 John Prince’s St, London W1G 0BJ. 5 mins walk from Oxford Circus Tube Station. Tickets are only £3 to cover refreshments but booking is essential. 

Book Here

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The Yorùbá Blues – Ìbàdàn

The Lagos train also travels to Ìbàdàn, another enjoyable journey but because the train goes all the way to Kano it was absolutely packed.   Ìbàdàn is another lovely station.  I’m still looking for my photo of the magnificent vintage goods scale.  I’ll post it when I find it. One of the reasons for visiting Ìbàdàn is because of its Àdírẹ history. 

Ìbàdàn dun is one of the most well known àdìrẹ designs. The pattern is named after the city where it was produced and translates as Ìbàdàn is sweet or Ìbàdàn is a happy place. Ìbàdàn along with, Abeokuta, was one of the major centres of àdìrẹ making, especially the intricate freehand starch paste cloths known as àdìrẹ eleko.

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The cloth is divided into a 52 piece grid decorated with 20 different patterns including representations of animals and flowers.  The cloth takes its name from one square, which features four spoons representing the pillars of Mapo Hall, built in 1929 as the main administrative centre under British colonial rule.  The Hall was also used to detain tax evaders.  One of the àdìrẹ eleko makers told me about a song she remembers her father and grandfather singing.  “Owo ori ti d’ ode o, o o’ode o baba wa loko san – payment of taxation has come, our fathers were the first to pay, the idiots and lazy ones who have not paid are in detention in Mapo”- “Awon ode ti o le san o, won nbe lati mole ni Mapo.” (Observe Nigeria, 2017) There is, of course, another side to the story of these onerous taxes particularly the impact on the àdìrẹ makers. The Bluest Hands by Judith Byfield documents this important perspective.

Mapo Hall was refurbished during the administration of Governor Alao Akala in 2008 and is now a great venue for important events including weddings and political rallies.

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I couldn’t find any freehand àdìrẹ eleko artisans in Ìbàdàn but I think my search was hindered by a lack of time.  I was pleased to find fermented indigo balls in the marketplace and I met an indigo farmer. 

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Making Stories Telling Tales II

It’s been challenging accessing the internet whilst on the road in Nigeria so apologies for the gaps with my posts. I’m about to upload another post on The Yorùbá Blues, but in the meantime and staying with the Nigerian theme I’m sharing details of a wonderful exhibition launching this Saturday 29th April for those of you in London.

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The artist Flo Awolaja uses African fabrics to create exciting abstract mosaic compositions “that hark back to West-African traditions of using textiles as a means of commemoration and communication, taking them and placing them in a contemporary setting”. The exhibition is the second part of her previous exhibition Making Stories and Telling Tales (Part I) which I saw at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park. London and which really was as Flo described a “vibrant celebration reminding us that narrative is not always verbal, and to appreciate the contribution of African and Caribbean communities around the world”.

image.jpgThere’s a great review of her upcoming exhibition by Elise Markham on her wonderfully entitled blog Cinnamon & Brown and for more information on the venue Gida Collective

Flo also has various size fabric artworks for purchase at Gida and can do commissions with specific fabrics and colours. You can contact her directly on floraawolaja@hotmail.com or follow her on twitter @Maverikartz.

The Yorùbá Blues – Lagos to Abẹ́òkuta

Abẹ́òkuta is about 100 kilometers from Lagos and is still is one of the major centres of àdìrẹ making. The journey should take about two hours by road except that my first trip took nearly five hours because of traffic congestion and uneven roads. I decided to make my return trip by train, leaving from Lagos Terminus, on Iddo Island, a district in Lagos Mainland. Iddo used to be an island, but following land reclamation, it’s now part of the rest of Lagos Mainland.

When I arrived at the station the engineers were still working on the train but the delay was only 30 minutes. The train was old, most definitely in need of investment, but the train and the station were clean. My fellow passengers were really friendly and helpful and actually, it was a really pleasant three-hour trip. Apart from some new seat covers the interior looked original, possibly 1950s and there was something quite romantic about its faded grandeur.

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It was so nice to take a break from the heavily congested Nigerian roads. The train passed through lots of rural villages and towns where the landscape was green and lush with palm trees, banana trees, sugar cane and bamboo. The historic stations at Kajola and Ifaw Junction were particularly beautiful. I arrived in Abẹ́òkuta just before sunset and crossed the railway track with my suitcase as instructed by the helpful station staff who even negotiated a reasonable price for my taxi to the hotel.

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Ogun State was created in 1976 with Abẹ́òkuta as its capital and largest city. The State is named after the Ogun river. The Yorùbá are the major ethnic nationality in Ogun State, comprising many subgroups including Ẹ̀gbá people. Abẹ́òkuta lies below the Olumo Rock, home to several caves and shrines. It was founded by Ẹ̀gbá people around 1830 seeking refuge from Yoruba civil wars. The name Abẹ́òkuta translates literally as the underneath the rock.

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Abẹ́òkuta is a really interesting town. Not only is it the birthplace of some famous Nigerians including former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti and writer Wole Soyinka but it’s also home to some magnificent Brazilian and Cuban mansions built by returning former enslaved. There’s an excellent blog post on the history of Abẹ́òkuta on Fulbright scholar Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún’s Travel Blog and a wonderful book called Ogun State published by Glendora Books.

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It took a few trips to build up a relationship of trust with the àdìrẹ makers and to convey to them that as an indigo dyer and textile artist I was looking to document and exchange ideas on sustainable practices rather than copy their work. As an embroiderer and indigo dyer, the stitch workshop and dye compound were my favourite spots.

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I also met the traditional àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko stencil maker and textile practitioner. His beautiful work really resonated with me, because of my first stencil àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko cloth.

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Thirteen to Zero – Exploring Sustainable Design

le designFor those of you in Vancouver,  I highly recommend checking out the first solo exhibition of fellow natural dyer Dawn Russell. Dawn has a wonderful organic approach to creating her work. She captures the beauty, colour and texture of nature with photography and sketches which she uses to inspire her very experimental, very exciting pieces, using only natural dye plants and natural fibres. 

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The Yorùbá Blues – Adirẹ Techniques

Yorùbá people have enjoyed a longstanding relationship with indigo dye for centuries. “The Yorubas are masters of the indigo dyeing process”. (Gillow, 2012)

Kijipa is the earliest known indigenous Yorùbá fabric, made of local hand spun cotton, woven on an upright single heddle loom or a narrow-strip double heddle loom and dyed with indigo.

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In  C19th Yorùbá towns in south-west Nigeria Oshogbo, Ibadan, Ilorin, Oyo and Abeokuta, Yorùbá women responded to newly imported European commercial woven cloth with a unique indigo dyeing technique called, àdìrẹ. Although the word literally means “that which is tied and dyed”  it is more of a generic word for the indigo dyeing process which has evolved over time and incorporates different techniques which create patterns by resisting the dye. After the pattern work is complete the fabric is immersed in the indigo dye many times to achieve the deep indigo blues prized by Yoruba people.

Àdìrẹ elejo is made by tying seeds in the cloth before dyeing.

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Adirẹ alabẹrẹ is one of the oldest forms of àdìrẹ and was originally made using hand spun and woven cloth. The cloth is folded and stitched to create a resist pattern. The early alabẹrẹ patterns were created with hand stitching with raffia to create very definite strong marks. More modern patterns are created using machine stitch which creates more subtle patterns.

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Àdìrẹ oniko is where the cloth is tied with raffia.

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Àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko comprises intricate cassava paste resist patterns applied through stencils or freehand before indigo dyeing. Stencilled àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko is said to have originated in Abeokuta and freehand àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko from Ibadan. Both were produced from original freehand drawings.

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Àdìrẹ alabela is a more recent àdìrẹ technique, where candle wax is used to create a resist.

One of the most prominent practitioners of àdìrẹ practitioners is Chief (Mrs) Nike Davies-Okundaye. Nike was brought up amidst the traditional weaving and dying practice in her native village of Ogidi-Ijumu, Kogi State, in Western Nigeria. Okundaye. Nike began weaving at the age of six and was introduced to àdìrẹ textiles, indigo dyeing, weaving, painting and embroidery by her aunt, great grandmother and grandmother, who at the time, was the leader of cloth weavers in the community. Nike has taught àdìrẹ workshops and exhibited internationally and created four art centres in Nigeria which continue to offer free training to young artists in àdìrẹ and other art forms including performing arts.

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Nike is also the owner of the largest art gallery in West Africa, Nike Art Center, based in Lekki, Lagos. Nigeria and contains over 7,000 artworks. I’ll write separate posts about the gallery and more about Nike and her own work. 

I am very grateful to Nike who generously gave me access to her amazing collection of vintage àdìrẹ textiles and spent time explaining the Yorùbá names and meanings of some of the patterns.

The ability to withstand adversity is represented in the popular ewé ẹgẹ́ (cassava leaf) motif.

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A motif like olokoto, which means circle of life reminds us that life is circular.  This references the Yorùbá believe that life does not end with death but continues in another realm or another cycle.

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A design called Èégun-ẹja meaning fish bone means “don’t bite off more than you chew”. 

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I’m on my way to Abeokuta and Ibadan, home to àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko. It will be interesting to find out if anyone still practices these techniques and uses natural indigo dye.

References

Books 

Carr, R. (ed.) (2001) Beyond Indigo: Adire Eleko Square, Patterns and Meanings. Lagos, Nigeria.

Clarke, D. (2002) The art of African textiles. United Kingdom: Grange Books.

Davies, A. (2014) Storytelling Through Adire: An Introduction to Adire Making and Pattern Meanings. Lagos : A Davies.

eds. E.P. Renne and Babatunde Agbaje-Williams (2005) Yorùbá religious textiles. Ibadan: BookBuilders.

Gillow, J. (2012) African Textiles Colour and Creativity Across a Continent. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

eds. Simmonds, D, Oyelola, P and Oke Segun (2016) Adire Cloth in Nigeria.

Websites

Adire African Textiles

British Museum

Gallery of African Art 

The Horniman Museum

Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Yoruba

Yorùbá Birthday Greetings – Kú ọjọ́ ìbí and Ẹ kú ọjọ́ ìbí

I will post a follow up to my first Yorùbá Blues post on Monday. Today I’m enjoying birthday celebrations and sending a big thank you for all my lovely birthday greetings.

I’m spending a lot of my time around Yorùbá people, because of their history and relationship with àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko. I’m trying my best to understand, not just the language but how the language is used. My birthday greeting was given to me in two ways. The first one, “Kú ọjọ́ ìbí” by people of a similar age and the second, “Ẹ kú ọjọ́ ìbí” by people who were younger. I’m also learning the morning, afternoon and evening greetings and it’s fascinating and wonderful how respect for elders is reinforced through the language.

A big thank you to Mayowa and Yemi for helping me navigate the beauty and subtlety of Yorùbá language.

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