Friday 4 March 2016

The Famous Adire Merchants of Abeokuta (Part 2)

She also took the reporter down an intricate lane spanning the making of the locally made, but internationallly acclaimed fabrics.
Chief Mrs Olukemi Odunlayo is the Otun Iya Oloja of Kemta. She said the trade is an ancient one, as old as Abeokuta itself, adding that the trade was handed down to them by their progenitors and they in turn, intend to pass it on to their descendants.
"Here, we focus mainly on the sale of adire and Kampala materials. There are other marketers of other goods in our midst but they are few," she said.
According to her, Abeokuta is still the largest Adire market in Africa. "This is an ancient trade that has spanned centuries in Abeokuta. This is the tale we met when we started. We were told that the trade is a strict family preserve. It is passed down from one generation to another. The shop that I was using for my trade that was demolished by the state government was passed down to me by my mother, who also inherited it from her mother.
"When our mothers started the trade in ancient times they used local lanterns to press the fabrics and people patronised them from many parts of the nation. When modernity came, they started using some modern equipment to make the trade easier. Nowadays that the trade is blossoming even white men come all the way from their countries to buy the fabrics," she added.
With nostalgia written all over her face, Iya Oloja recounted how she participated in the making of Adire as a child.
"When we started as kids we were the ones who would gather the materials to be processed. We would also be the ones to gather candles to be used in making intricate designs on the materials. We usually did that after school hours. Then, we used to process the materials in bales of five yards each. Some had close to 120 pieces while others had about 60 pieces. We usually did just one design which we called Alaale. Alaale then was the nearest to maroon colour we have today. With modern technology we now have brown and the gold, and different other colours.
"We usually used the Aro Dudu (black dye) back then, which was used to process the ancient Adire fabrics we were taught by our forbears. Then it was the same dye used for painting houses that our mothers made use of. We still make use of it today but with modern technology we now have different variants of the dye-yellow, navy blue etc. Nowadays with the aid of computers, we now have different designs which we play with, that our mothers never envisaged was possible. In time past, some of these things were done manually, especially the use of candles to make intricate designs, but nowadays that has reduced, though it is still an integral part of the process. Today we are mainly into what we call freehand processing. This means that, apart from the use of the candle to bring out the design we also use needles to enhance the various colours. There is the Eleko variant, the thread variant etc. These are just some of the rarities we now have that were not there in the past," she explained further.
She added that, when she was young, her mother insisted that she learn the trade but she was a bit reluctant. "The stress then in the process was just too much for a young person like me. Soaking the materials especially was hectic. The stress is still there. Look, you met us arranging the clothes. We have been at it for some days now. But with time, I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of the trade and have come to love it. Many of us are now passing the knowledge down to our children. Some people come to us that they want to learn, but at the end they don't show seriousness. I have a graduate daughter and an undergraduate son who are both learning the trade under me at present. We know that if we do not pass the knowledge down to them it will die a natural death. Now with their academic knowledge we all sit down to plan how to make more intricate designs that were not possible during the ancient times. There are some designs that if you have not been adequately trained to do, you will not be able to do, so we teach them everything while urging them to reach the pinnacle of their academics," she said.
Asked if the fabrics are affordable, she said they are not expensive. "Nigerians by custom love flashy and expensive things. But here, we make sure all classes of people can afford to buy materials once they come here. There is always something for you to pick up no matter how much you have. If you want the cheaper ones you can have them. If it's the expensive ones, special designs like the ones used by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, you will also have them. But one thing you will be sure of, is that they are all of good quality. Your bargaining power is also essential.
She said most of the raw materials used in the industry are imported from other countries. China, according to her, is a major supplier of cotton materials. She said importers bring the materials to Kano, where they go to retail.

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