One of my absolute favorite global textiles is a cloth called Aso-Oke (pronounced ah-SHAW-okay). Aso-Oke is a strip-woven cloth, woven by the Yoruba people of Southwestern Nigeria. These textiles are thought to date back to the 10th century A.D., pre introduction of Islam or Christianity.
Used for special occasions, Aso-Oke garments for men and women are traditionally worn for attending funerals, weddings, and royal ceremonies. A complete set consists of long robes, trousers, and hats for men and wrap-skirts, shawls, and head wraps for women.
Unfortunately, a lack of interest by younger generations (most of the current weavers are older), changes in trends and styles, and an influx of machine-woven cloth all threaten to move traditional Aso-Oke production towards extinction, a common issue with traditional textiles. So today I’m excited to share more about this beautiful, traditional cloth and how you can continue to support traditional weavers and newer designers using authentic fabric for their work. –Harper Poe
Click here to check out more of Harper’s columns on traditional fabric designs and production.
Photographs above by Kelly Merchant
Photograph by Tunde Owolabi, via Designindaba
-Traditionally, the threads are made using locally grown, handspun cotton and silk and dyed with natural dyes, including locally sourced Indigo. With the British colonists came chemical dyes and machine-made fabrics that changed the nature of Aso-Oke production for the worst. They did bring with them an interesting weaving technique with the intent on mimicking Spanish lace by leaving holes throughout the fabric. I personally love this addition to the weaving style, as well as the occasional shiny threads (gold and silver) that have been introduced.
-Aso-Oke for the most part is a warp-faced pattern, meaning the stripes in the cloth are made when setting the warp threads (those running out from the horizontal loom and up and down from the vertical loom) with brocading done using a supplementary weft.
-The fabric is traditionally woven by men on a horizontal loom in narrow strips or by women on a vertical loom. The narrow strips, 10-20cm wide, are sewn together to make the entire cloth.
-There are three types of traditional Aso-Oke cloth; Etu (blue and white), Alaari (crimson and white), and Sanyan (grayish/taupe, also the most expensive).
Use in Ceremony:
-Egungun are masked Yoruba tribesmen representing spirits of the ancestors. Their costumes vary but are commonly adorned with pieces of Aso-Oke, adding cloth to their costumes year after year. If you’ve ever
seen Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, they are very reminiscent of these types of African ceremonial costumes.
Where to find:
-Pillow: Oroboro Store
–Women Shops World (Etsy shop)