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Adirẹ alabẹrẹ is one of the oldest forms of àdìrẹ and was originally made using hand spun and woven cloth.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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The Yorùbá Blues – Introduction

For my 21st birthday, I treated myself to a piece of indigo dyed fabric. It has been washed too many times to count and the dye, although still strong has acquired the beautiful variegated patina of age. Years later I discovered it was a Nigerian Yorùbá indigo dyed textile using a starch resist technique called àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko. This fabric provides the initial inspiration for my indigo research and my desire to explore my personal connection with Jamaica’s indigo plantations and Yorùbá indigo textiles.

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This part of my research has been made possible through a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship under the Crafts and Makers category. The award has been made in partnership with the Heritage Crafts Association, the advocacy body for traditional crafts. The fellowship has enabled me to travel to South Western Nigeria to research Yorùbá àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko pattern making.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is the UK’s national memorial to Winston Churchill. Each year the Trust awards Travelling Fellowship grants to UK citizens in a range of fields to enable Churchill Fellows to carry out research projects overseas. These projects are designed to exchange ideas and best practice, and build greater understanding between peoples and different cultures.

My travels start in Lagos and from there I head to Abeokuta, Ibadan, Osogbo, Ogbomosho and Olusun-Ota. I’m meeting indigo dyers, artisans and academics along the route. Please follow my Nigerian travels and keep a look out for talks and workshops when I return to the UK.

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South Carolina Indigo

P1020559Indigo dyed Corchorus olitorius (Tossa jute) with openwork hand embroidery Lucille Junkere 2015

I have been studying and dyeing with indigo dye for over six years and through that connection became aware of one of the first women to be inducted into the South Carolina business hall of fame. When Eliza Lucas Pinckney moved to South Carolina during the eighteenth century she owned a number of African slaves and used their labour and knowledge of indigo cultivation to help indigo become one of South Carolina’s most lucrative cash crops. Her historic contribution to their agricultural economy was acknowledged in the hall of fame. The fact that she was a slave owner using forced unpaid labour to successfully grow and extract indigo for export is not properly acknowledged in South Carolina.

Her Wikipedia entry reads like a shameless celebration of her life. When I first read it last year there were no references to slavery at all so I corrected that. It took me a while because I used academic research to support my references to slavery and her use of the African expertise of indigo cultivation. I took a screen shot of my contribution but within two days someone removed all the references to slavery. So I put them back, they were removed again, this back and forth went on a while it was as if people were trying to erase history. I continued to change the entry and told a few friends and textile artists who helped monitor the removal of the slavery references, reinstating my additions. Finally some of my references have stayed, albeit edited down to perhaps a sentence, but I am satisfied that some of the truth is documented. When people research indigo I want them to know the truth about this magnificent plant colour.

This is a bit part of the problem in America’s southern states, where is the proper acknowledgement, the recognition of the terrible history and legacy of South Carolina’s past and the origins of its wealth? How can people heal if the uncomfortable truths are not addressed? One of nine people killed in Charleston, South Carolina was an African American paster Reverend Clementa Pinckney. When I saw his last name, I wondered whether his relatives were African slaves who grew indigo for Eliza Lucas Pinckney.

Sample Book and Events – William Morris Gallery Residency No 7

My sample book of indigo textiles is now on display at the gallery.  I am still experimenting and improvements in the weather have enabled me to achieve much darker blues, more even coverage and explore different indigo recipes.  I will post some photos very soon as I am also working on the printed version of all the samples which will go on display at the gallery in the next few weeks.

Hope you can join me this weekend I am hosting a lovely film, Indigo Textiles amongst the Yoruba, the director Thorolf Lipp has kindly given me permission to show the film to a public audience for free. There will also be some vintage Nigerian textiles on display.  Duncan Clarke from Vintage African Textiles has been very generous in lending them to me for the film screening and post film discussion. His textiles are beautiful examples of the Nigerian Yoruba technique, Adire Eleko, where cassava paste is used to create patterns and resist indigo dye.  You can read about these textiles and see some photos on Duncan’s website and you can find him in Alfie’s Antiques Market, London NW8  http://www.adireafricantextiles.com

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La Porte du Non Retour – Benin

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Today is Emancipation day so I thought I’d share this photograph I took in Ouidah, Benin on the West Coast of Africa. It’s the detail from ‘La Porte du Non Retour’ or The Door of No Return. The Republic of Benin, Ouidah and UNESCO built the monument in 1992 as a symbol to commemorate African ancestors lost through the transatlantic slave trade. It’s difficult to find the words to describe the emotions you feel when you visit this place. The air is thick with violence, memories, loss, betrayal, the sadness really is overwhelming. At the same time there is a sense of pride and strength which many, including myself believe is the spirit of those that were forced to leave.

My next stop was Cape Coast Castle, one of about 30 slave castles in Ghana, my brother admirably drove most of the way with malaria which he dealt with by placing a handkerchief on his head to soak up the sweat from the fever. I am pleased to say he no longer gets malaria.

About 1000 male slaves and 500 female slaves occupied Cape Coast Castle at any one time in separate dungeons. Each slave would be locked up for 6 to 12 weeks, waiting to board one of the ships. The design of the dungeons reveals the complete and brutal disregard for human life. There are a couple of windows but they only let in a small amount of light rather than fresh air, the ceilings are so low you have to stoop when you are inside and there is a channel down the middle for human waste. There were only a handful of people on my tour, the horror was visible on all our faces. I couldn’t stand that place, it had an unbearable smell. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when an African American man in the group started crying. He gave release to the emotions I felt too paralysed to surrender. I later discovered that he had traced his ancestry to Ghana and spends half his time there to support the enterprise project he set up with the local community.

There is a memorial plaque in the courtyard at the entrance to the castle. It says – In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this.