What do the Yoruba people of Iseyin and the Scottish people of the Outer Hebrides have in common? The answer is world famous indigenous fabric. And of course, there the similarity ends.
For those who don’t know what the Yoruba woven fabric produced in Iseyin looks like, Google ” Aso Oke” and see pages and pages of brides and grooms and gorgeous little boys and girls decked out in sumptuous Gele , Iro, Ipele, Buba , Sokoto and Fila. Every colour and combination you could ever dream of exists in Aso Oke, that handwoven fabric in fabulous colours, lovingly woven on simple wooden looms using a technique that’s generations old. It’s a hard wearing and versatile cloth that’s more recently being fashioned into home and fashion accessories by creative entrepreneurs young and old.
And then, a few clicks away the news stories on Aso Oke tell all about how the industry is dying because indigenous weavers have had to abandon the craft due to hardship and lack of support.
Some also talk about (Horror!) China steamrolling in with factory woven inferior fabrics also called Aso Oke.
But really, proud galleries of traditional Yoruba wedding photos beaming Aso Oke out to the world, without sufficient supply-ability from or support for the indigenous weavers is like begging for some other entrepreneur community/ industrial nation to steal your legacy and make millions doing so.
Example, Kente cloth.. Kente cloth is now readily available in Ankara form, printed in China, sold in Africa and all over the world. To be clear, that is a Chinese product of a Dutch printing technique in a Ghanaian design, sold to Ghanaians and lovers of Ghanaian culture, passed off as Ghanaian cloth. Lots of people wear that “Kente “ Ankara thinking they are dressing in an African fabric/style…Lol . But the joke’s on us Africans paying money to Chinese companies to display our own culture. My blogger friend puts it so nicely here in Food, Fabric, Economics.
How far behind Kente cloth is Aso Oke in this fate? Is it too late to be avoided?
Compare Aso Oke’s woes with British Harris Tweed..
Harris Tweed is a cloth handwoven by islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides. – Harris Tweed Weavers Association
Scottish cloth made by Scottish people in Scotland, Aso Oke made by Yoruba people in Yorubaland. End of similarity. If you mess around faking Harris Tweed you will face the law.
Harris Tweed is protected by the Harris Tweed Act 1993, which strictly outlines the conditions in which the cloth can genuinely be made.- Wikipedia
Is there such a law existing in Nigeria to protect Aso Oke specifically? In the days before colonialism , Yoruba crafts men and women would belong to an Egbe or Parakoyi-
Occupational guilds, social clubs, secret or initiatory societies, and religious units, commonly known as Ẹgbẹ in Yoruba, included the Parakoyi (or league of traders) and Ẹgbẹ Ọdẹ (hunter’s guild), and maintained an important role in commerce, social control, and vocational education in Yoruba polities.- Wikipedia
So why aren’t today’s Egbe protecting their industry? Seems they were a casualty of colonialism –
The Ilorin indigenous textile industry has been marginalized through unfavourable government policies over time. The informalization of the industry by the Colonial Government disconnected the sector from state’s support and funding. The policy of divide and rule of the British colonialists proscribed the precolonial Weavers’ Guild System (Byfield, 2002; Meagher, 2008). …. The massive importation of textile in the colonial and post-colonial periods choked the existing market for traditional textile …- REVISITING THE DEBATE ON INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE AND AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT: LESSONS FROM ILORIN TEXTILE CLUSTER1 by Olukayode Abiodun Faleye
It’s been 55 years since independence isn’t it?
In the relatively new Nigerian system, understandably (?) the fate of a few weavers in remote Yoruba towns is far down the priority list of the humongous Giant of Africa . Well, further down than oil revenue/spills, security, terrorism, problems of very diverse population, porous borders etc etc
The Aso Oke weavers of Iseyin and Ilorin have done exemplarily well so far with their creativity, hard work and tenacity. The traditional structure that would have supported them in times past has been worn away, and in this Information Age it’s time for some 21st Century Egbe support!
So, who is in charge of making laws to protect Yoruba legacies? What’s his/her name? Let’s start an online petition to him/her today!
But someone said you can’t stop a weaver living in China from building/buying a loom and making the same Aso Oke cloth to sell? Yes, but you can stop them calling it Aso Oke. Just like Champagne is protected. Anyone can make sparkly wine, but only that made in Champagne region of France can be marketed and sold as Champagne. You can’t treat your guests to Cava and say you served Champagne at your wedding….
Most recently Canada, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Canada and China passed laws or signed agreements with Europe that limit the use of the term “Champagne” to only those products produced in the Champagne region. The United States bans the use from all new U.S.-produced wines.– Wikipedia
Awon oyinbo, they have thought this through very well, because they understand what’s at stake. When their old folk die, the children of Outer Hebrides and Champagne will always have a way to make a living.