When I hear Abeokuta what comes to my mind is a rusty wooden framed lorry known colloquially as “nine eleven” in Nigeria parlance. I wonder why that is? Maybe it’s because Abeokuta cannot be dissociated from the rustic ingrained history of a nation known as the Yorubas.
It was year 2004, I had become quite a thrifty “buy and sell” final year student of fabrics.However it was curiosity and puppy love preference for Abeokutas ADIRE ( Tied and Dyed) Fabrics that lead me into the ancient Townish city of Abeokuta Capital of Ogun State situate on the fringes of western Nigeria. sombre and dusky describes this ancient city which is home to the people known as the Egbas of Yoruba land.
The richness of an old town is depicted by stone walled structures of the sixties and fifties cobbled between modern housing..Abeokuta reeks of civilization and deep loyalty towards tradition and culture. one could almost feel in a tangible way, that grateful attitude that tells of “a colonised people who did not lose their identity”.The Egbas who are the cultural custodians of Abeokuta and Adire have their roots dug deeply historical mines of their beloved Town.
In 1830, the Oyo empire was in a state of disintegration due to civil wars ravaging their entities.The Egbas had become refugees and were fleeing from war torn zones lead by a hunter called Sodeke. They got to a place which had outcropping of rocks surrounding it. In this new abode they met Adagba, an itoko farmer who lives in the farmstead. He received the Egbas in their clusters which historically were recorded to consist of about 153 hamlets and villages. Their new abode was known as “Oko Adangba” meaning ” The farmstead of Adangba”
The rock which became a refuge from war and strengthened the Egbas against their invaders is the Revered Olumo rock. Olumo rock has its trail of myths in history but it stands out evidently as the Rock of refuge for the new settlers. It was recorded that they used the advantages of seeing their enemies approaching and hiding in the rock which had rooms , caves and channels and saved the Egbas from external aggression, notably from King Gezo of Dahomey who struck at them twice but was victoriously opposed. Olumo is broken down syllablically as OLU ( God) and MO ( moulded) which symbolically correlates as Moulded by God. The rock has become a Shrine of the Symbolic Salvation of the Egbas and a yearly festival is held to honour ” the olumo”. Natural tunnels,pathways, water flow and gardens could be found in the rock which had become a national tourist attraction. It lies in history that a 200 years old mustard tree grows on the rock. it does not shed it’s leaves and produces all year round.it is used to treat different form of ailments. It is also reported that no one had ever fallen from the rock hence solidify it as a symbol of preservation. It is also said that up until 50 years ago, the rock had produced a mysterious water every rainy season which cures sicknesses and diseases.
Abeokuta’s early exposure to the British made her a city of many firsts. Her exposure came by virtue of her being the hinterland from the coasts of Lagos and Badagry and the British priced jewel where merchandise was carried out on a massive scale to other parts of the country. The first hospital in Nigeria, the first secondary school, the first church ( two in fact) the first bridge in Nigeria (constructed by an indigenous engineer) and some few other first cradled at Abeokuta.
My trip to scout the cultural fabric ADIRE ( Tied and Dyed) took me to Itokun market. A very boisterous commercial enclave of the Adire fabric in collosal varieties!!!. The Egbas as a matter of life and culture is Adire and Adire is Egba. Trying to separate one from the other would be like separating salt from sugar. The fabric has historically become the national emblem of the Egba people. It is locally processed using ” TERU” a pure cotton fabric dyed in indigo gotten from the ELU leaf which is only found in Oyo. Intricate patterns and designs are crafted through a tying method which brings out the artistry of the the Egbas. The craft of Making Adire started through a woman who settled it as a family craft passed on to only women within the households.subsequently more women from other families were inducted into the trade which had become a national pride over the years. Decades down the line saw men entering the trade with the variance of using pastels stencils and waxing method of producing unique prints in comparison to the women folk who are still indulged in the hand dyeing and designing method.
We now have Adire evolving into batik and Kampala and even machine produced ,” tye and dye” All kinds of fabrics are now use to make adire.Yours truly made her finest picks and took with it memoirs of cultural heritage.
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