This week we are focusing on the rich and varied weaving traditions of west Africa. There are numerous weaving traditions that have been developed and used throughout the African continent. The weaving technique that we will cover in this unit is the broad upright loom weaving technique used in southern Nigeria, Benin Republic and Cameroon. This technique was used to create numerous ritual, prestige and domestic textiles, that were used locally and exported throughout west and central Africa. Primarily ( often exclusively) women used this loom as opposed to the narrow strip loom that was exclusively used by men until the mid-late twentieth century. The prestigious Aso-Olona cloths used by the ogboni society of the Yoruba people are part of this tradition as are the blue and white textiles from the former Benin empire that were exported to european traders in vast quantities. I studied weaving in Ogidi Ijumu at the the Nike center for art and culture under my teacher, master weaver Mrs Agnes Umeche ,who was born in the neighboring town of Okene a historic center for weaving arts.
Below: Mrs Agnes Umeche and her work
It is an honor to be able to teach this art to students here in the United States. For now we are practicing using a modified handheld version of the loom made from sanded canvas stretchers. Apprentices would use a similar practice loom made from an upturned stool or calabash when they first started out.
Below : A Yoruba woman setting an upright loom, Ihaka and Jordan setting their practice looms.
I am excited to see how the work they are doing translates to their larger pieces on a full sized loom. These traditions were once very widespread in Nigeria. In fact in the igbo village of Akwete all women were expected to weave. The Yoruba towns of Owo,Ilorin and Ijebu Ode and the Ebira town of Okene were also renowned for their textiles. Although this art is still practiced in Nigeria this particular type of weaving is becoming rarer as time progresses. It is my hope that places like the Nike center for art and culture continue to revive these arts in Nigeria. As an African American who most likely has roots in southern Nigeria learning this art form was a healing experience, one that felt like the reclamation of an ancestral skill that had been taken away by force. I hope to share that experience with my students. Be sure to stay tuned as we continue our journey through the work of african textiles.
Below: More examples of students weaving on their practice looms