Africa: Aso Ofi..Oyo govt, stakeholders partner to uplift Yoruba culture

Aso Ofi..Oyo govt, stakeholders partner to uplift Yoruba culture

The 2016 World Tourism Day (WTD) holds on September 27 in Thailand with the theme; “Tourism for All: Promoting Universal Accessibility.” The focus of this year’s WTD is a conscious reminder to all and sundry around the world to push for integration in order to improve each other’s potential in tourism and to promote a mutual understanding of different cultures and traditions.

In Oyo State, the government has decided to tap into the opportunities of the day to promote a special Yoruba traditional fabric known as Aso Ofi also called Aso Oke, worn on special occasions by the Yoruba, especially for coronation, chieftaincy, wedding engagement, festivals, naming ceremony and other important events. There are different types of Aso Ofi, but the three popular ones are Etu, Sanyan and Alaari. The difference among the three types has always been colour. While Etu has to do with dark blue with stripes, Sanyan is carton brown with white stripes and Alaari is crimson. Other types include eya, takunsi, damask, silk, cotton, net, metallic, monogramming, wire-to-wire, super net, painting, double weaving, and check. But they are mainly of modern age.

Aso Ofi is a costly material for the rich in the olden days, particularly Sanyan, Alaari and Etu. But the poor ones would put on a typical cloth known as kijipa. Those who wore kijipa were considered lazy. Kijipa was considered as an ideal cloth for the have-nots, usually referred to as “borokini” (commoners) because it was rugged and could be used for three or more years. The durability of kijipa made the Yoruba to tag it “akogi-ma-ya,” meaning that which is not easily torn.

Aso Ofi provides the Yoruba an opportunity to express their perception on whether a person is industrious or from a rich family or lazy. Also, the size of Aso Ofi is indicative of social status. There is agbada nla (big agbada), which is for chieftains as well as esiki also known as dasiki, which s a short garment with slits on the sides. Though esiki is for fashion in the contemporary days, it used to be worn by commoners in the olden days. There is a Yoruba adage that says: “Kijipa asa oke, ofi aso agba, agba ti ko rowo r’ofi, ko ra kijipa. Sanyan ni baba aso, etu ni oba ewu, alaari l’atele.” The adage is interpreted by experts as: Kijipa is for a lazy man, ofi for elders. An elder who cannot afford ofi should buy kijipa. Sanyan is the father of them, etu the king and alaari is next to it.

Investigations showed that Kente fabrics, hand woven in Ghana is similar to Aso Ofi. Kente has gained global recognition, but it cannot be categorically said that Aso Ofi has gained such global recognition like Kente. Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Toye Arulogun, said the state would mark this year’s WTD tagged: Aso Ofi Day, at Old NYSC camp ground, Iseyin. He stressed the need for government and the people to promote the cultural heritage of the state could not be over-emphasised.

He also noted that the new cotton farm initiative by some local governments was a pointer to better days ahead: “We need to promote, support and uphold our cultural heritage. By doing this, our economy will improve, and things will turn around for us in this state. Also, the onus is on every citizen of this state, both at home and in the Diaspora to support the promotion of our local fabric, Aso Ofi for the growth of our fashion tourism. This will definitely improve our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and uplift the economy of this state.”

The state government, according to him, would host a tourism summit soon to celebrate Amala Fiesta, promote Yoruba traditional wedding ceremonies and resuscitate tourist sites and monuments. He decried the low patronage of locally fabricated textile materials, stressing that, if properly harnessed and promoted by indigenes as well as residents of the state, it would boost the economy and increase the IGR.
Weaving of Aso Ofi was said to have begun centuries ago in Iseyin in Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State, Ede in Osun State and Okene in Kogi State.

The fibres used to weave the cloth were made locally in the olden days. But in these days, they are sourced from neighbouring states, apart from synthetic fibres being imported into the country for the special traditional cloth. Caretaker chairman of Iseyin Local Government, Mr. Saheed Alaran, said the council was ready to support the state government towards a successful hosting of the event.

He disclosed efforts at promoting Aso Ofi through the construction of Ajumose Weaving Sheds in each ward of the local government, saying that the sheds would be ready for commissioning and handover to weavers during the event. But Daily Sun can authoritatively report that production of special Yoruba traditional fabric known as Aso Oke is generating employment opportunities and millions of naira for youths of Iseyin, a rustic town, about 80 kilometres from Ibadan. Iseyin prides itself as the largest producer of Aso Ofi. Aso Ofi that worth over N3 million are rolled out daily from Iseyin to the popular Aso Oke markets at Oje, Ibadan and Ede, Osun State. The two markets attract buyers from Ondo, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto states and even other countries in West Africa.

Mr. Biodun Sangotikun, a post-graduate degree holder in Electrical Electronic Engineering, is an Aso Ofi weaver in Iseyin: “To make an ipele (shawl), the material will cost between N2,300 and N2,500. What caused this is the fact that we don’t value our industrial sector. “There is no help from government. We have seen inferior materials brought from China and people buy them. People from Ghana import materials into the country and government continues to watch. Our hand-woven fabric is better than the ones made by machine.”

Waheed Isiak, 44, began weaving over 20 years ago: “I learnt the trade from our people. When I finished my Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), I intended to further my education but was unable to do so due to lack of finance. Faced with the situation, I then decided to learn a trade. Weaving was what came to my mind. Since I started the business, I have been making it. “To the glory of God, I have my own house. Two of my children have finished their National Certificate of Education (NCE) programmes while the third one is in his first year at the Emmanuel Alayande College of Education, Oyo. It is through this industry that I became what I am today.

I have no other means of livelihood.” Prince Adeniyi Adefirantan, a weaver, seller and supplier of Aso Ofi at Oje Alaso-Oke Market in Ibadan, said the future of the fabrics does not look bleak at all. According to him, he used Aso Ofi to sew the suit he wore on his wedding day because he did not want to use foreign suit: “The business of Aso Oke will never go into extinction. I have been doing this job for 27 years. I inherit the business from my parents. I weave. Now, I do more of marketing. “I take Aso Oke to every part of Nigeria now.

“I also supply both local and imported fabrics to weavers of Aso Oke. Glory be to God, I have built one house, got married and I send my children to good schools.”
A tailor at Oje, Mr. Muri Olajide, specialises in the sewing of Aso Oke: “I have no regret that I specialise in the sewing of Aso Oke. It is very lucrative. We are always in business because in Oyo State, Oje is the marketing place for Aso Oke, though people in Iseyin are the main weavers of it.” Mr. Muritala Kuti, a designer, specialises in decorating beautiful designs on Aso Oke. He stated that he has been in the business for almost 10 years.

Mr. Onaolapo Saka is the chairman of Nigerian Union of Tailors (NUT), Oje Laafa branch. He was helpful in identifying the three major traditional types of Aso Ofi, which are Sanya, Alaari and Etu: “People that matter in Oyo State do contact me to sew special Aso Oke for their visitors. I sew for royal fathers, political office holders and many others. I have been in this business for more than 30 years. “Training to sew Aso Oke is quite different from other types of clothes. You need special training for it. Also, people abroad do contact me to sew for them. So, it is a good thing that Oyo State Government has decided to promote Aso Ofi during this year’s World Tourism Day.”

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