Culture, Africa

Traditional fabric scripts Nigeria’s cultural renaissance

Indigo-dyed adire cloth turns fad, emerges from antiquity

Rafiu Oriyomi Ajakaye   | 06.05.2019
Traditional fabric scripts Nigeria’s cultural renaissance

LAGOS, Nigeria 

Diverse and complex African societies are known for their signature fabrics and cuisines. In Nigeria’s southwest city of Abeokuta, capital of Ogun province, no event is complete without the colors of adire – the rainbow traditional wear.

Probably the most reflective of country’s cultural diversity, adirẹ (pronounced ah-deer-ay) is large indigo-dyed cloth, decorated with bold resist-pattern designs. It is the traditional garment of the Egba-Yoruba -- ethnic group that inhabits banks of the Ogun River, 77 kilometers (48 miles) north of Lagos.

The unique feature of adire is that it is tied and soaked in indigo plant extract to produce desired patterns and stripes. In the past, the cloth was made from Teru -- wooly white fabric. Over the years, since the quality of Teru has declined, artisans use pure white cotton to weave traditional cloth, which is not only a signature wear, but an economic blessing for the local ethnic groups.

Even though the tradition of weaving and coloring of adire had begun in the 18th century, it has recently emerged from antiquities to become a major vocation in the region.

Tourists, connoisseurs, collectors of African art and fashion enthusiasts from across the world throng the major Adire market at Kemta Itoku suburb of Abeokuta city everyday – thus making the fabric not just a local craft, but a global brand, offering employment to thousands in the region.

Adire generates employment

Saidat Akamo, a septuagenarian female head of the market, said the making of adire includes a vast value chain of craftsmen at various stages. They include die mixers, design artists, then those who tie the cloths and ultimately the trade employs the sales boys and girls in the market. Akamo is the granddaughter of an acclaimed first female adire merchant in Abeokuta, Jojolola Soetan, who died in 1932.

“Adire has been the mainstay of so many families who directly inherited the business from their forebears and others who later joined the business. The cloth business has continued to thrive from generation to generation”, Akamo told Anadolu Agency inside her sprawling shop.

“The adire craft will never fade away as it has evolved to attract young people as customers and investors.”

Cultural renaissance

Young people admire adire to make fashion statements – using imprints of art paintings. Others wear it as aso ebi -- a uniform dress worn in ceremonies.

Wasiu Erinfolami, male head of the sprawling market, said the influx of young people into the adire trade has helped innovation and creativity, as they opt for trendy designs to express new tastes.

"People, especially the young ones, coming into the business are introducing modern design concepts that have helped to keep adire textiles in vogue,” said Erinfolami, who has been in business for past 37 years. “This ingenuity definitely drives patronage. Demands for adire is rising and there is bright future for the craft.”

He said the arrival of latest textile brands has not affected the demand for this cultural wear – thanks to its exclusivity and the creative concepts being introduced by young adire entrepreneurs.

Adire jackets and ready-to-wear colorful designs are in high demand globally, said Temi Balogun, a whiz-kid, at the upscale Balogun market in Lagos.

He said some sort of cultural renaissance is going on in many African cities. Movers and shakers of entertainment industry are patronizing adire wear. The government has also launched a campaign seeking patronage for local goods.

Depending on the quality of the textile with which it is made, a five-yard adire fabric costs between $7 to $56 or even more.


But there are challenges also – the biggest one is the scarcity of textile. To overcome this challenge, Akamo suggested setting up of a functioning textile manufacturing unit in Ogun province.

“It is a challenge to travel to as far as Kano (in the northwest) to get textile for dying. This is one big business opportunity, the private sector should take advantage and set up a textile manufacturing unit,” she said. She, however, praised the local government for providing interest-free loans and starting construction of a 500-shop mall, reserved for adire trading.

But the most important step is the adoption of the seal of authenticity of “Adire Ogun”, thus making the fabric an official and cultural identity of the province, with full patent rights. She said the seal will serve as a global mark of quality.

“This truly confirms our own adire as original and top quality,” Akamo added, describing it an effort to protect local product from adulterated brands.

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