ne of the most beautiful parts of Nigerian culture is their fashion sense; the ability to make something creative and attractive from the trash. Aside from making them, they also have the basic knowledge of how to sell them to the rest of the world as well as pass them from one generation to another.
The Art of Adire in Nigeria
The Nigerian culture gives value to its people across all ethnic groups and ensures that every aspect of their lifestyles fits into the civilization of each generation. This is why the culture is sustained in different dimensions according to the generation’s vogue.
The multiethnic culture of Nigeria places great significance on several artistic forms, particularly weaving of grass, carving of wood, leather and calabash, ceramics, painting, glass and metal works, and weaving of fabric (textile). In addition, in the fashion sphere, some fashion wears such as ‘agbada, fila abeti-aja, aso ofi, and adire,’ among others, are what make Nigerian culture sustainable and attractive for any generation to fit in.
One such creative culture is the making of adire. Adire, a staple art among the Egbaland people in Ogun State, is possibly the most representative of its cultural roots. The Egba nation is said to have its capital in Abeokuta, where the Adire industry is located. Thus, cotton weaving, pottery, and Adire are all traditional crafts of the Abeokuta people, despite the fact that the introduction of cotton to the population occurred in the 1850s.
However, it is noteworthy to state that the Yoruba tribe of southwest Nigeria is the originator of the traditional indigo dye textile known as adire. This textile is as beautiful and culturally rich as it is historically significant. Women typically wore adire as wraps, but by the middle of the 1960s, adire materials were being utilized all over the world to make men’s shirts. It is also employed in modern fashion in a variety of ways to establish a balance between classic and emerging modern trends.
The early 20th century gave access to large quantities of imported shirting material through the spread of European textile merchants in Abeokuta and other Yoruba towns, which caused a boom in these women’s entrepreneurial and artistic efforts, making adire a major local craft in Abeokuta and Ibadan, attracting tourists.
The earliest pieces of this type were probably simple tied designs on cotton cloth handspun and woven locally, rather like those still produced in Mali. The fabric’s initial design was two pieces of shirting fabric sewn together to form a women’s wrapping cloth. Resist dyeing methods were improved.
In West Africa, indigo dyeing is a long-standing custom. The earliest known instance is a piece of headgear from the Dogon dynasty in Mali that was dyed in the oniko fashion and dates to the 11th century.
However, towards the end of the 1930s, issues with quality and a persistent decline in demand were brought on by the proliferation of synthetic indigo and caustic soda, as well as a wave of new, less experienced competitors. Even after a brief resurgence in the 1960s, largely due to the enthusiasm of US Peace Corps volunteers, the more intricate and exquisite starch resist designs never again attained their former level of appeal.
Today, “kampala” is more popular than “simple stencilled designs,” however some higher-quality oniko and alabere designs are still produced (multi-coloured wax resist cloth, sometimes also known as adire by a few people).
In place of the native cassava paste, wax or paraffin was used as a resist agent, and patterns were made using easy methods including tie-dying, folding, crumpling, and randomly sprinkling or spraying the hot wax over a cloth prior to dyeing. As the demand for adire increased and the new adire manufacturers became more skilled, a block printing method for applying the hot wax emerged and mainly replaced stencilling.
However, Nigerian artists like Nike Davies-Okundaye, who served as an inspiration to a new generation of designers like Amaka Osakwe (and her brand Maki-Oh) and Duro Olowu, have recently brought back Adire art. Politicians and celebrities, including Michelle Obama and Lupita Nyong’o, have recently sported attire with an adire influence. Adire Market Week was a program started in 2022 by Bamidele Abiodun, the governor of Ogun State’s spouse, to promote adire and safeguard regional textile producers.
Production of Adire
The original Adire fabric was created with teru (local white clothing) and elu (local dye), which is produced from elu leaves that are grown in the Saki region of Oyo State. In the 20th century, as more materials imported from European merchants were accessible for dyeing, tie-dye makers and artistic endeavours increased.
New methods of resisting dyeing were created in Nigeria as more cotton materials became available for dyeing. However, in general, there are major techniques to make adire and they are highlighted below;
Onikan (also known as the Raffia Resist): In order to create tiny white circles on a blue background, thousands of little maize kernels or pebbles are wrapped in raffia. The fabric can also be folded into stripes or twisted and fastened on itself.
Alabere (also known as Stitch resist): Before dying, sew raffia in a pattern onto the fabric. The spine of the raffia palm is sewed into the cloth after being peeled. The raffia is typically torn out after dying, but some people choose to keep it in so that wear and tear over time gradually reveals the pattern.
Eleko (also known as a starch resist): Paint some cassava paste on the fabric to resist dying it. Similar to block printing, calabash is also employed in this traditional method, which uses different-sized chicken feathers. Metal stencils carved from the sheets of tin that coated tea chests have also been utilized since the early 20th century.
However, the simplest tie-dye pattern, according to research, is created by periodically drawing up sections of the fabric and binding or knotting them before dying. After being dyed, the knotted portion is later cut out, revealing a circular pattern.
The majority of the patterns have names, and among the most well-known ones are the Jubilee pattern, which was originally created for the 1935 silver wedding anniversary of George V and Queen Mary), Olokun (goddess of the sea), Sunbebe (raising up of the beads), and Ibadandun (Ibadan is sweet).
Nigeria is also well-known for its two-tone indigo resist designs, which are made by repeatedly dying cloth with cassava root paste to get a deep blue colour, washing the paste out of the fabric, and then dyeing it again. Before the adhesive is removed, the high-quality fabric is dyed 25 or more times to get a deep blue-black hue.
Subsequently, the Bamana of Mali utilize mud resist, Senegalese dyers, use rice paste rather than cassava root; and the Ndop of Cameroon use both threads resist and wax resist. Different types of indigo resist-dying are also used in other parts of West Africa.
The new colourful adire has remained a viable fashion alternative to machine printing in the twenty-first century. The Yoruba in urban and rural areas care about fashion like the new adire’s ever-evolving patterns. In Nigeria, older women in Abeokuta and Ibadan, as well as craftspeople, continue to produce indigo-dyed adire oniko and eleko.
The Adire textile is no longer just utilized for clothes. It is being used for other purposes as well. It is now being applied in a variety of inventive ways. It can be used to create notepads, decorative pillows, wall art, lamp shades, and other items.