Tuesday 1 March 2016

The Famous Adire Merchants of Abeokuta by Tosin Omoniyi (Part 1)

For centuries, Egba women had ensured that the Adire (tie-dyeing) industry does not die by passing the intricate designing skills to their daughters.
The expansive Kemta Adire market in the heart of the historic town of Abeokuta bear vestiges of an age long trade that has engaged women for centuries. Sprawling at the feet of the Itoko , with its old red roofs, the market attracts tens of thousands of traders and tourists alike on a daily basis.
But construction work at the market is threatening to the market of its age and history. A bridge construction near the market has resulted into some stalls being pulled down and some of the Adire traders displaced. Business, however, still booms at the market as the displaced traders have found new spots to display their exotic fabrics.
Our reporter who visited Kemta found the regimented structure of the market intriguing. Some of the Egba women, who adorned themselves in their traditional Adire Bubas and towering headgears to match, sat at the doors of their stalls with bales of assorted Adire piled to the ceilings, patiently waiting for customers. Any attempt to engage them in light-hearted talk failed as they all kept mute. Attempts by our reporter to get information about the market from several of the women did not yield results. They had to hold an emergency meeting before they decided that our reporter speak with one Iya Oloja, who appeared to be the market superintendant."Nobody will speak with you even if you walk around the whole market for the next few days. This is the way we operate at the market. We are all disciplined. Your best bet is to strike an agreement with the Iya Oloja or any of the officials of the market. They are the only ones who can persuade any of the market women to speak to you." One of the women who was a bit sympathetic to our reporter said.
A quick phone call to Iya Oloja, an affable elderly lady did the magic.  Women who appeared to have their lips were sealed suddenly became loquacious. With enthusiasm, they narrated how, for centuries, the trade has endured. They are very passionate about what they do. They have a common trend in their testimonies. Having received the baton from their mothers in time past, their greatest wish is to pass same down the line to their children.
Tie-dyeing of the fabrics into flamboyant traditional styles has been in existence for ages. The exquisite patterns which bear traditional Yoruba emblems and artefects are made by tying and stitching with raffia or cotton thread, or by using chicken feathers to dab painted cassava paste on the cloth which then, acts as a resistant dye, much like the wax method used on batiks (the Indonesian version). Adire is a sparsely-dyed cloth produced and worn by the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria in West Africa. The Yoruba label Adire, which means "tied and dyed," was first applied to indigo-dyed cloth decorated with alternating patterns at the turn of the twentieth century. With the introduction of a broader colour palette of imported synthetic dyes in the second half of the twentieth century, the label "Adire" was expanded to include a variety of hand-dyed textile using wax resistant batik methods to produce patterned cloth in a dazzling array of dye tints and hues.
Angela Sancartier, a clothing and fashion researcher traces the genesis of adire to Abeokuta. She said: "As a distinctive textile type, adire first appeared in the city of Abeokuta, a centre for cotton production, weaving, and indigo-dyeing in the nineteenth century. The prototype was tie-dyed kijipa, a handwoven cloth dyed with indigo for use as wrappers and covering cloths. Female specialists dyed yarns and cloth and also recycled faded clothing by re-dyeing the cloth with tie-dyed patterns."
She also explained that when British trading firms flooded the textile market with colourful, inexpensive printed materials, the adire industry rose to meet the challenge. The women discovered that the imported white cotton shirting was cheaper than handwoven cloth and could be decorated and dyed to meet local tastes. The soft, smooth texture of the imported cloth, in contrast to the rough surface of kijipa cloth, provided a new impetus for decoration. The soft shirting encouraged the decorators to create smaller, more precise patterns with tie-dye methods and to use raffia threads to produce finely patterned stitch-resistant Adire Alabere. The smooth surface of shirting led to the development of hand-painted starch-resistant Adire Eleko.
Abeokuta has remained the major producer and selling centre of Adire, but Ibadan, a larger city to the north, become a nucleus of women artists who specialized in hand-painted Adire Eleko. The wrapper design Ibadandun ("Ibadandun" meaning "the city of Ibadan is sweet") is popular to fill this day.'
Otun Iya Oloja, Mrs Olukemi Odunlayo insisted that Abeokuta will continue to lead the way in the Adire trade.

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