Aso Oke: Yoruba’s silent path to riches Jun 16, 2016 17:28:33 GMT
Post by Short_Biscuit on Jun 16, 2016 17:28:33 GMT
Aso Oke: Yoruba’s silent path to riches
Aso Oke is a vintage fabric that has responded positively to contemporary dynamics and transformations to remain relevant socio culturally. Today, it appears as an untapped source of wealth particularly in the South-West. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE writes on the challenges and prospects of the age-long fabric.
A marriage ceremony in Yoruba land is an important event and it is incomplete in the absence of a particular kind of fabric, the Aso Oke. From time immemorial, Aso Oke (which is also popularly called Aso Ofi), is a name derived from the Yoruba sentence, Aso Ilu Oke, meaning clothes from the country side. Aso-Oke is a cloth that is worn on special occasions by the Yoruba people especially for marriages, chieftaincy ceremonies, traditional events and festivals and is usually a uniform for Yoruba traditional rulers.
This traditional fabric has been in existence for centuries and it is an age-long material that has not been put on the back burner in spite of civilisation. In fact, Aso Oke has maintained a pride of place among the Yoruba people and has now extended to other regions in Nigeria. The production of the Aso Oke fabric, though synonymous with some towns, cuts across the different towns and states across the South Western part of Nigeria.
In Oyo State, the craft of weaving the Aso Oke is predominant amongst the Iseyin people and in Osun State, the people of Ede town take the lead. The craft is however not restricted to these two states, in Ogun, in spite of the love for Adire, Aso Oke weavers are still scattered around communities while the mat weaving craft in Ekiti and Ondo has in no way eradicated Aso Oke weaving. For the Kogi people, Okene is the base for traditional Aso Oke weavers.
The Aso Oke fabric has however gone beyond a cloth used in the ancient period as rather than suffer extinction like other old age products, it continues to move with the times and maintains relevance. Indeed, it is one of the few fabrics that has not faded out of fashion and had not suffered any damage from colonial influences, economic policies, global influences or contemporary political innovations.
Though Aso Oke has witnessed diverse changes over time and is regularly undergoing contemporary innovations, it has retained its original essence and has become a bigger business among the Yoruba people especially the elite. Now, across the major cities in the South West, there are big Aso Oke weaving companies that had helped to generate employment, open exportation opportunities, help entrepreneurship and empowerment projects.
Aso Oke has existed across eras in Yorubaland and at different times, it has taken on a relevance which goes beyond functional clothing for ceremonies and is now a source of income, not for poor artisans but even for those who have the ambition of setting up a small to medium scale industry. The beauty of the Aso Oke from ancient times lies in the fact that it can serve as a link between this modern period and the olden days as it has sustained its relevance since as a cloth for prestige, ceremonies, casual outings and traditional functions.
This traditional fabric is a cultural heirloom in the Yoruba community and it plays an important role in wedding ceremonies from times past till the present time; the use of Aso Oke during marriage ceremonies in times past serves to show affluence, royalty and the ability of the groom’s family to shoulder the responsibility of the bride and this use has become part of the Yoruba culture.
And in some states, Aso Oke weaving is peculiar to particular cities and family, making it a hereditary trade. In Oyo State, the rustic town of Iseyin, is known as the home of Aso Oke, having been adjudged the largest producer of the fabric in the state. What stands Iseyin out aside claims that they were the original weavers in the olden days is that the trade is one that involves almost all residents as they engage in this trade in one form or the other with many that have other businesses and trade, adding Aso Oke sale to it.
This traditional fabric which comes in various designs and colours, is very popular among the Yoruba people. However, gone are the days when the weaving and trade of Aso Oke is restricted to particular cities. Today, in virtually all cities and towns in Yoruba land, there are Aso Oke weavers and sellers in large numbers and some have even established it to the standard of a medium scale business.
Nigerian Tribune learnt that daily, fund that runs into millions of naira is churned out of the industry especially in Yoruba land where there is a continuous demand for Aso Oke.
The Aso Oke is no more an industry of traditional importance but one that is economically relevant and has been a source of job creation for many; both old and young. Also, the trade has gone beyond one for the illiterates as the industry is now being taken over by graduates that had revolutionised the industry and molded it to modern trends without undermining its cultural aspect.
To many that inherited the trade, their academic pursuit till the university level is sponsored with proceeds of the Aso Oke business and rather than seek white collar jobs in their chosen fields after graduation, most opt to stay in their father’s trade while those that take salary jobs still continue the Aso Oke business by the side especially in Iseyin.
And with civilisation, many graduates that had no background in weaving, in a bid to be self employed, ventured into the business and expanded it by introducing modern looms and such equipment to make it a less tedious job and also improve on styles and designs while so many weavers have moved from the initial town to other towns to practice their trade.
Aso Ofi is an age long fabric that was the family trade of some families in Iseyin area and though the craft of weaving the Aso Ofi is practised throughout the town, some families are known with this trade. They can be found in areas like Isalu, Koso, Oke Ola, Arapa compound and Ijemba. In these families, no matter how educated they are, the all practice the craft of weaving Aso Oke.
These families use the traditional method by spinning the thread themselves and are very versatile in colour coding and combinations. Aso Oke comes in different styles and quality; etu, sanyan and alari.
A school of thought however believes that what is called Aso Oke now is not the original Aso Oke as it is inferior in quality to what is being produced now due to civilisation and a change in method of weaving, their argument is focused on the fact that the Aso Oke of tester years are very thick and endures abuse more than the modern ones because they are stronger.
But many people that spoke with Nigerian Tribune punctured this argument. Adejoke Odusote, a trader that deals in Aso Oke in Ibadan stated that the lighter Aso Oke is not inferior as some think, adding that it is rather better and more beautiful.
“In times past, the Ofi used to be very heavy but that is rather a disadvantage now because people no longer want to wear heavy clothes because it is difficult to wash and usually generates heat. The new ones are however more beautiful and easier to maintain than the heavy ones. Also, for us that sell, it is easier to package and lighter. It also sells faster than the old ones as the demand for it is higher,” Adejoke said.
Corroborating this view, Tunrayo Omomowo of Olori Tunsbabe Aso Oke, a big firm in Lagos, stated that the fact that the new Aso Oke is lighter does not mean it is inferior but rather, it makes it easier for it to compete with other fabrics imported from other countries.
“We still use the same technique that is used to weave in the early days, the only difference is that we use lighter threads and now add designs to make it attractive and more competitive. Now, the Aso Oke designs we have can compete favourably in terms of aesthetic and quality. The Aso Oke is still the same only better. And for those that prefer the thick designs, we still produce them, everything is based on demand,” she said.
Ola Sheu is a weaver based in Lagos and one of the many weavers that work at a medium scale Aso Oke industry, Olori Tunsbabe Ofi industry. Sheu is one of the people that entered the trade hereditarily, having started the craft with his family from early childhood but contrary to expectations, Sheu is not from Iseyin but from Ilorin.
“Weaving is a family craft. I inherited it from my forefathers’ right from childhood during my primary school days. I started this in Ilorin because that is my hometown, I’m not from Iseyin like many people tend to expect,” he said.
He further told Nigerian Tribune that sourcing for materials is very challenging as they face diverse setbacks in this process. “We face lots of challenges starting from sourcing for materials. Sometimes we buy thread and by the time we set the job, the thread starts changing colour, in such situations, customers sometimes reject the job and we have to make another one thereby causing a shortage. Space is also another challenge but the major challenge is sourcing for raw materials.”
And for Sheu, Aso Oke weaving is a very lucrative and fulfilling trade that can easily be learnt between six months to two years depending on the ability of the person learning the trade.
Speaking further on how weavers have continued to move with the trend without losing the local touch, Sheu stated that, “Like I said, I inherited the trade from my father and moving with the trend still depends heavily on the old ways which we inherited; the old experience is what we use to move with the trends. Weaving is not for lazy hands. But it is very lucrative and I encourage people to learn it,” he concluded.
However, other weavers that spoke with Nigerian Tribune in Iseyin revealed that Aso Oke dealers make more profit than the weavers as what they make in one day can rival what weavers make in over a week as the efforts are not commensurate with the earnings while dealers make more with little effort. They believe that for one to make profits easily, the individual should have a department that markets its product rather than selling to dealers that will inflate the price and make so much money.
“It is easy to be a millionaire from this business if you weave and sell to individuals and businesses yourself but setting this up as a industry is not an easy feat because it entails a lot; land, equipment, staff, resources and networking abilities and because we have little value for local industries, things are more difficult. People will rather import very inferior materials from other countries,” he stated.
Equipment used for the tedious process of Aso Oke weaving include a spindlier (orun), propeller (akata), short wheel (akawo), long wheel (iye), strikers (aasa), rollers (gowu and kigun) and extender(omu). The process of weaving Aso Oke is also long and tedious; it starts from the processing of cotton which is planted during the rainy season between the month of June and July and is harvested between November and February of the following year. The planters, after harvesting the cottons, keep them in the bar for spinning, which is the first process.
Spining is the separation of the cotton seed from the wool and this is done with the Spindlier, the wool is spread and rolled on the loom and while the spindlier is being turned, it will start thinning the cotton. After this comes the sorting which is the separation of dirt from the wool in order to make the wool fit for use.
After this is the paterning, where designs and patterns are made on the Aso-Oke while the cloth is being woven and during this process, the cotton reels are hanged upon the hangers on the sets of the metallic pegs on the ground in order to make the cotton into bundles. The weaving starts after this, the rolled cotton will be neatly inserted into the striker through the extenders. The weaver will tie Iro (filler) on his seat. There are two or more holes on the staff in which a small peg is tagged. On the upper hand of the Omu (Extenders), there is Okeke (Wheel or Axle) for pulling the Omu up and down.
There are two step pedals under the extenders (Omu) which the weaver presses down interchangeably during weaving. The pedal when pressed enables the cotton to open and the Reeler put through to one side while the Striker knocks the reel to and fro to another side. This Striker allows the reel to be finely set interchangeably. The weaver handles the Oko (Motor) throws it inside the open cotton to be received by his other hand, movement of the Motor continues and faster as if the weaver is not touching it at all. The reel inside the motor will start giving a peculiar sound; Sakala - si - sakala – sa over and over.
As this process continues, the cloth is weaved and gradually extends forward. The weaver uses the drawer to pull the cloth towards his direction and the carrier obeys the force and moves towards him while weaving continues.
Speaking on what could be done to help the industry, a dealer in Oje market identified as Adunni, stated that there is a need for government to see the industry as one that can generate income for the nation.
Her sentiments were emphasized by Mrs Tunrayo Omomowo, the Chief Executive Officer of Olori Tunsbabe industry in Lagos. She further stated that at a period when there is a need for the nation to look for other means of income generation, the government should consider the Aso Oke industry as it has vast potentials in export.
“Aso Oke is not a trade for the backyard; it has great export potentials and can help to generate foreign exchange. More money is made from selling Aso Oke to foreign countries as they appreciate it more than we do here in Nigeria,” she concluded.
Aso Oke in its array of beauty and radiance is one local fabric that has not only stood the test of time but is a money silent money spinner that remains untapped.