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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