Aso-Oke Production and Use among the Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria

Article excerpt


The production of traditional handcrafted textiles among the people of Africa is long rooted in their culture. These textiles are produced from locally sourced materials ranging from cotton, local silk, bark, goats wool to raffia, commonly used in weaving (Renne,1995;102).While felted backcloth acclaimed to be the oldest form of indigenous African cloth, woven cotton fabrics dating to the eight century have also been found in burials in Niger (Clarke 1998;18), and fragments of plain patterned strip woven cloth dated to the eleventh century were also discovered at the Tellem burial cave in the Dogon region of Mali. Thus, both provide evidence of a long standing clothing tradition in Africa (Bolland 1992; 13). Although the origin of textiles productions and usage in Nigeria, most especially among the Yoruba remain unknown, there are evidences of Yoruba's long use of textile as apparel as reflected in ancient sculptures, which has been dated back to the 10th and 12th century A.D.

W. Fagg (1977; 29-39), mentions that these sculptures depict the use of accoutrements which include loin cloth, cap, sashes badge, hats and others He, also suggests that materials used for the manufacture of these clothing are derived locally because, they resemble today's traditional Yoruba hand woven strip cloth 'Aso-Oke'. While relative dating of the local production of Aso-Oke among the Yoruba remain difficult due to its ephemeral nature, the association theory of Krigger (1990; 39) brought more confusion when he claim that the earliest use of textiles made from men's loom among the Yoruba came via the introduction of Islam to Kano through Nupe, and later to Yoruba land in the 15th century.

However, the diffusion theory used by Krigger to establish the evolution of weaving among the Yoruba is tenable considering Picton's comments in Ademuleya (2002; 35) that "the distinctiveness of the West African narrow strip loom (Yoruba inclusive) is a pointer to an independent tradition." He thus cautions' against the popular speculations that there must have been only one point of origin or source of inspiration; it could therefore be argued that the Yoruba production of textiles, Aso-Oke in particular could have been developed by the Yoruba before contact. Furthermore, since the radio carbon dates confirms earlier existence of these sculptural pieces to between 10th and 12th century date which was prior to the introduction of Islam or contact with the Nupe people in the 15th century, one can conclude that the Yoruba use of textiles as apparel or as clothing is an age-long tradition which predates contact with Islam.

Weaving Tools

Yoruba traditional weavers according to chief Onakanmi of the Fedegbo compound in Ogbomoso use two types of loom for the production of their traditional hand-woven textiles 'Aso-Oke'. First, the upright single heddle loom, also known as the broad loom (used by women) is a fixed vertical frame upon which the warp is held under tension used to weave cloth of a predetermined length with about 30 to 90 cm width to allow two or three pieces stitched together to make a wraparound "iro" for women. The fabric produce on this loom is what Aremu (1980; 18) refers to as kijipa (see plate 2 below)

Second, the double heddle loom (used by men) is an horizontal loom with the unwoven warp yarns stretched out several yards in front of the weaver with a heavy shed to maintain tension (see plate 3 below). The loom produce strips of woven fabrics which is about 14-15cm wide; the fabrics are cut and edge stitched together to make larger piece of cloth which could be used for clothing or coverings. The men's horizontal loom compared to the women vertical loom uses more accessories and provides opportunity for the use of a variety of warp threads which often determines the types of design found on Aso-Oke. Ojo (2006;105), identifies these accessories to include: heddles (omu aso), treadles' (itese), beater (Apasa), shuttle (oko), winding shaft (gogowu/ikawu), shedding stick (oju/poporo), and pulley (ikeke) to describe for the varieties of warp threads and the means for introducing the weft thread. …