Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Famous Adire Merchants of Abeokuta (Part 2)

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. 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.

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