The O’Hear Collection
The following documents were written by Ann O’Hear in 2017 to aid research into the O’Hear Collection (part of the West African textiles) and to reference the work undertaken during documentation of the collection.
The O’Hear Collection contains both dyed cloths and complex weaves. It includes Yoruba tie-dyed, starch resist-dyed and wax resist-dyed cloths. The woven items include Aso-Oke and Kente style narrow strip weaves, plus Akwuete, Aniocha, Okene and Bida cloths.
All text is copyright to ULITA. The author must be acknowledged when quoting from these documents.
Overview: Adirẹ and Yoruba Batik
Overview: Adirẹ and Yoruba Batik (Ann O’Hear, December 2017)
(Note: In this overview, Yoruba diacritical marks are used.)
The word Adirẹ is made up of two Yoruba words, ‘adi’, to tie and ‘rẹ’, to dye. The term is generally used today to describe cloth produced by resist dyeing of broadly two types, one involving tying and stitching, and the other involving the application of starch paste as a resist agent.
The names given to designs / motifs which appear on Adirẹ cloths may be determined by events occurring at the time of the introduction of the design / motif, or be based on shared societal values or commercial interests.
The oldest form of Adirẹ is called Adirẹ Oniko, which is cloth made using ‘iko,’ meaning raffia. The cloth may be tied using raffia strings, or more recently cotton thread. In Adirẹ Eleso, which may be considered as a sub-set of Adirẹ Oniko, seeds, pebbles, cowries and other items are tied into the cloth, or the cloth is tied using the tip of the little finger to form tiny circles. Adirẹ Eleso is often found on cloths in conjunction with Adirẹ Alabẹrẹ, an old form of Adirẹ in which raffia strings or cotton thread are stitched into the cloth, and then pulled tight, to form patterns.
Machine stitching also came to be used. Because sewing machines can make finer stitching, the designs produced are somewhat different from the designs on hand-stitched cloth.
Although Adirẹ production was traditionally the work of women, men came to be involved through machine stitching and the manufacture and use of stencils (for which, see below).
Innovations were also introduced in terms of colouration. Adirẹ was originally dyed in indigo blue using Lonchocarpus cyanescens (‘ẹlu’ in Yoruba; also called Yoruba indigo). Synthetic indigo was first produced at the end of the 19th century in Europe, and eventually the use of synthetic indigo became common in Yoruba dyeing. In the 1960s, factory-produced dyes in other colours came to be used.
The most recently introduced form of Adirẹ is Adirẹ Ẹlẹkọ, using starch paste (ẹkọ). The paste is usually made from cassava flour. This form of Adirẹ was developed after imported cloth became available. It can be produced by painting the paste onto the pattern freehand, using such implements as feathers or palm mid-ribs. In the second method, the paste is applied through stencils cut out from metal sheets or other materials. Stencils cut from zinc have largely been used. Designs are also created using combs. After dyeing, the starch paste is allowed to dry thoroughly, before it is washed and scraped off.
Adirẹ was very widely sold and used by women for everyday wear as wrappers in the 1960s, as observers attest. Later decades of the twentieth century saw a major decline, and the virtual disappearance of traditional Adirẹ cloth production was apparent by the end of the 1980s, though some cloths remained available for sale. In the 1960s, Betti Okuboyejọ experimented with the use of bright chemical dyes to produce starch resist patterns. Such cloth became popular among some educated Nigerians and for a while among expatriates. The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) encouraged the wearing of Adirẹ cloth for a time. But, starting in the 1960s, a type of wax resist cloth called Kampala rose to popularity at the expense of the older types of resist dyed cloths. Other factors also contributed to the decline of Adirẹ production. These included the continued popularity of the attractive factory-produced cloth known as Ankara (also called ‘African Prints’, or ‘Dutch Wax’, which started out as imitations of Indonesian Batik), the labour-intensive nature of traditional production combined with the modest financial returns from it, and the fact that traditional Adirẹ cloth was commonly regarded as everyday cloth for women and therefore generally lacked prestige (though it should be noted that the wearing of Adirẹ made up into shirts and trousers had also been a symbol of Yoruba nationalism).
Adirẹ cloth continued to be produced in the centres set up by the well-known Yoruba textile designer Chief Nikẹ Davies-Okundaye, who remained active well into the twenty-first century. But, although the production of quality Adirẹ had almost ceased elsewhere in the late twentieth century, as of the early decades of the twenty-first century it was enjoying a resurgence. In the second decade of that century, it was reported that new cloths were selling in Dugbe Market in Ibadan in large quantities. Dyers were now learning their skills from schools and colleges.
Fine older examples of the cloth are now highly prized, and can be found in textile collections in many parts of the world.
As noted above, from the 1960s, wax has been used as a resist agent in cloth dyeing in Yorubaland. Cloth produced by this method is sometimes known as Adirẹ Alabẹla (‘abẹla’ in Yoruba means candle), but it is rather more generally and appropriately regarded as a new form of resist dyeing in Yorubaland, separate from Adirẹ, and in the O’Hear Collection it is referred to as Yoruba Batik. It varies from panels displaying relatively simple patterns produced with stamping blocks to complex freehand pictorial pieces, often influenced by the art produced by Twins Seven-Seven and the Osogbo School.
The author is grateful to Bridget Itunu Awosika, PhD, Professor John Picton, Dr William Rea and the authors of the chapters in ‘Adire cloth in Nigeria’ (ed. Doig Simmonds, Patricia Oyelọla and Ṣẹgun Ọkẹ, 2nd edition, 2016) for their contributions to this overview. Readers of this overview should also consult Dr Rea’s (2012) Panel text to the ULITA exhibition, ‘Yoruba Textiles: cloth and tradition in West Africa’. The full text is available via the ULITA website under the Exhibitions.
The O’Hear Collection: research notes
The O’Hear Collection: research notes
The research notes below introduce the individuals who have provided information, suggestions and advice on the cloths in the collection and related topics. The donors of the cloths, Hugh and Ann O’Hear, are grateful to all the others listed below for generously sharing their knowledge and expertise.
Hugh O’Hear taught in the Western Igbo area of Nigeria, 1964-1967, and at Kwara State College of Technology, Ilorin, Nigeria, 1976-1985. The instigator and driving force behind the acquisition of this collection, Hugh is also the leading researcher on the Western Igbo Aniocha cloths and the Ghanaian cloths in the collection, and has made many other contributions to the catalogue.
Dr Ann O’Hear taught in the Western Igbo area of Nigeria, 1965-1967, and at Kwara State College of Technology, Ilorin, Nigeria, 1976-1985. Ann has conducted research and published various works on the economic and social history of Ilorin, including textile production and trade. She has donated a number of collections to institutions. These include a digitised research collection, ‘Additions to the Lovejoy-Adesiyun Collection’, featuring Aso Oke cloth production, which she has deposited in the Harriet Tubman Resource Centre, Harriet Tubman Institute, York University, Toronto, Canada: see the bibliography, below. Ann has compiled the catalogue records and related documents for the O’Hear Collection.
Bridget Itunu Awosika, PhD, is Director of International Linkages and Research and a Chief Lecturer at the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, Nigeria. Dr Awosika is a specialist in textiles and clothing. Her PhD thesis dealt with clothing made from “improved” Aso Oke. She has worked on the design and production of a modified loom for weaving Aso Oke cloth. Her many areas of expertise also include the teaching of cloth dyeing techniques. Dr Awosika has engaged in the design and production of various types of garments, items for use in interior decoration, and other items, such as conference T-shirts and accessories, all made from indigenous fabrics, and the use of gemstone ornamentation of indigenous fabrics. She has contributed greatly to the research for the O’Hear Collection catalogue, in providing information on Adire production and on various individual cloths; she has contributed most especially by sharing her expertise in the culture surrounding Yoruba textiles.
Dr William Rea is Senior Lecturer, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds, UK, and a specialist in Yoruba culture and African art history. Dr Rea has shared his expertise in Yoruba and other textile production, providing information on a number of cloths in the collection. See also W. Rea (2012), Panel text to the ULITA exhibition, ‘Yoruba Textiles: cloth and tradition in West Africa’. See the bibliography below for full details including a link to this text.
John Picton is Emeritus Professor, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, UK. Discussions with Professor Picton, doyen of Nigerian textile studies (and much more), have been essential in clarifying the separation of categories of resist dyeing.
Colleen Kriger, Professor in the History Department, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA, and expert on West African textiles and their history, has provided a thoughtful and helpful report on two hard-to-identify cloths.
Professor Toyin Falola, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, USA, historian of Africa, and expert on Yorubaland, and Professor Karin Barber of the Department of African Studies and Anthropology, University of Birmingham, UK, specialist in Yoruba culture and verbal arts, have provided translations from Yoruba to English.
Members of the Embroiderers Guild @ Leeds have inspected various cloths and provided answers to questions.
Jill Winder, Curator (ULITA), has shown infinite courtesy, patience, and helpfulness in sharing her expertise with the donors throughout the process of development of the catalogue.
Select bibliography of works
Select bibliography of works relating to the cloth traditions represented in the O’Hear Collection
(Not all details given below can be definitively confirmed. It has not always been possible to find complete details.)
Abiodun, Rowland, Ulli Beier, and John Pemberton III, eds. 2004. Cloth only wears to shreds: Yoruba textiles and photographs from the Ulli Beier Collection. Amherst, Mass: Mead Art Museum, Amherst College.
Afigbo, A., and C. Okeke. 1985. Weaving tradition in Igboland: history and mechanisms of Igbo textile industry. Lagos: Nigeria Magazine.
Barbour, Jane, and Doig Simmonds, eds. 1971. Adire cloth in Nigeria. Ibadan, Nigeria: Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.
Carr, R., ed. 2001. Beyond indigo: adire eleko square, patterns and meanings. Lagos, Nigeria: Simon Printers Ltd.
Eicher, Joanne Bubolz. 1976. Nigerian handcrafted textiles. Ile-Ife, Nigeria: University of Ife Press, 1976.
Exeter City Museums. 1999. Iwa l’ẹwa. Exeter, UK: Exeter City Museums. Features Yoruba cloth and clothes and other items of material culture in the collections of the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter. Text by Len Pole. [includes discussion of Yoruba weaving and cloth dyeing]
Gilfoy, Peggy Stoltz. 1987. Patterns of life: West African strip-weaving traditions. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for National Museum of African Art. [includes Ghana]
Gillow, John. 2003. African textiles: colour and creativity across a continent. London: Thames & Hudson.
Glassie, Henry. 2010. Prince Twins Seven-Seven: his art, his life in Nigeria, his exile in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Kent, Kate P. 1971. Introducing West African cloth. Denver, Colo.: Denver Museum of Natural History.
Kriger, Colleen E. 2006. Cloth in West African history. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press.
Lamb, Venice. 1975. West African weaving. London: Duckworth. [mostly Ghana]
Lamb, Venice, and Judy Holmes. 1973. Nigerian weaving. Lagos, Nigeria: Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd.
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. 1992. History, design, and craft in West African strip-woven cloth: papers presented at a symposium organized by the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, February 18-19, 1988. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for National Museum of African Art.
National Museum of African Art (U.S.). 1997. Adire: resist-dyed cloths of the Yoruba. Washington: D.C.: National Museum of African Art. Exhibition brochure.
Picton, John, and John Mack. 1979. African textiles. London: British Museum Publications.
Simmonds, Doig, Patricia Oyelọla, and Ṣẹgun Ọkẹ, eds. 2nd edition, 2016. Adire cloth in Nigeria. Special UK Limited Edition published by Doig D. Simmonds. Available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Twins Seven-Seven. 1999. A dreaming life: an autobiography of Chief Twins Seven-Seven, the Ẹkerin-Bashorun Atunluto of Ibadanland. Edited by Ulli Beier from conversations with Twins Seven-Seven. Bayreuth: Bayreuth University Press.
Articles, Book Chapters
African wild silk. 1916. Bulletin of the Imperial Institute. 14, pp.167-180.
Aremu, P.S.O. 1979. Yoruba adire-eleko fabrics. Nigerian Field. 44, pp.98-106.
Aremu, P.S.O. 1982. Yoruba traditional weaving: kijipa motifs, colour and symbols.
Nigeria Magazine. no. 140, pp.3-10.
Areo, Margaret Olugbemisola, and Razaq Olatunde Rom Kalilu. April 2013. Adire in south-western Nigeria: geography of the centres. African Research Review [AFRREV]: An International Multidisciplinary Journal, Ethiopia. 7(2), pp.350-370. Available from www.afrrevjo.net [correct 2012]
Aronson, Lisa. May 1980. Patronage and Akwete weaving. African Arts. 13(3), pp.62-66 and 91.
Aronson, Lisa. 1989. Akwete weaving: tradition and change. In: Engelbrecht, Beate, and Bernhard Gardi, eds. Man does not go naked: textilien und handwerk aus afrikanischen und anderen lӓndern. Basel: Museum für Völkerkunde, pp.35-64.
Barbour, Jane. 1970. Nigerian ‘adire’ cloths. Baessler-Archiv Neue Folge. 18, pp.363-426.
Boser-Sarivaxévanis, Renée. November 1983. Special issue, African textiles. Swissair Gazette. no. 11, pp.9-38.
Boyer, Ruth. 1964. Narrow band weaving among the Yoruba of Nigeria. Craft Horizons. 24, pp.28-29, 52-53. [Oyo men’s weaving: for comparison with Ilorin]
Boyer, Ruth, 1983. Yoruba cloths with regal names. African Arts. 16(2), pp.42-45, 98. [Oyo men’s weaving: for comparison with Ilorin]
Browne, Angela W. 1983. Rural industry and appropriate technology: the lessons of narrow-loom Ashanti weaving. African Affairs. 82(326), pp.29-41.
Clarke, J.D. June 1938. Ilorin weaving. Nigeria. no. 14, pp.121-124.
Clarke, J.D. 1939. The use of vegetable dyes. Nigeria. no. 18, pp.158-160.
Daniel, Mrs. F. June 1938. Yoruba pattern dyeing. Nigeria. no. 14, 125-128.
Davis, Marian. Spring 1974. Akwete cloth and its motifs. African Arts. 7(3), pp.22-25.
De Negri, Eve. 1966. Nigerian textile industry before independence. Nigeria Magazine. no. 89. pp.95-101.
Ene, J. Chunwike. 1964. Indigenous silk weaving in Nigeria. Nigeria Magazine. no. 81, pp.127-136
Hale, Sjarief. 1970. Kente cloth of Ghana. African Arts. 3(3), pp.26-29.
Kent, Kate P. 1972. West African decorative weaving. African Arts. 6(1), pp.22-27, 67-70, 88. Also additions and corrections, 6 (2).
Murray, K.C. 1936. Women’s weaving among the Yorubas at Omu Aran in Ilorin Province. Nigerian Field. 5, pp.182-191.
O’Hear, Ann. October 1987. Craft industries in Ilorin: dependency or independence? African Affairs. 86(345), pp.505-521.
O’Hear, Ann. 1988. Alhaji Yahaya Kalu Olabintan of Ilorin: master weaver. Nigerian Field, University of Ibadan. 53, pp.3-10.
O’Hear, Ann. 1990. The introduction of weft float motifs to strip weaving in Ilorin. In: D. Henige and T. McCaskie, eds. West African economic and social history: studies in memory of Marion Johnson. Madison: University of Wisconsin–Madison African Studies Program, pp.175-188.
Ohiare, J.A. 1989. Textile production in the Ebira-speaking region: an aspect of its technological development from the 19th century to date. In: J.F. Jemkur and A.D. Igirgi, eds. Proceedings of the 8th annual conference of the Archaeological Association of Nigeria, Minna, June 25-July 1, 1989. Zaria, Nigeria: Archaeological Association of Nigeria.
Okeke, C.S. 1976. Traditions and changes in Igbo woven designs. Nigeria Magazine. [no further publication details available]
Okeke, C.S. 1980. Use of traditional textiles among the Aniocha Igbo of Mid-western Nigeria. In: Dale Idiens and K.G. Ponting, eds. Textiles of Africa. Bath: Pasold Research Fund Ltd., pp.108-118.
Okoduwa, Anthony I. 2007. Where bottom dropped off manufacturing innovation in Nigeria: an example of the Esan [Ishan] people in Edo State. Studies of Tribes and Tribals. 5(1), pp.29- 34 [online]. Available from http://www.krepublishers.com/ [article includes section on Ishan weaving; link is correct 2017]
Olaoye, R.A. August 1989. A study of twentieth century weaving in Ilorin, Nigeria. African Study Monographs. 10(2), pp.83-92.
Perani, Judith. May 1979. Nupe costume crafts. African Arts. 12, pp.52-57, 96.
Perani, Judith. 1989. Northern Nigerian prestige textiles: production, trade, patronage and use. In: Engelbrecht, Beate, and Bernhard Gardi, eds. Man does not go naked: textilien und handwerk aus afrikanischen und anderen lӓndern. Basel: Museum für Völkerkunde, pp.65-81. [includes Nupe cloth]
Perani, Judith. 1992. The cloth connection: patrons and producers of Hausa and Nupe prestige strip-weave. In: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. History, design, and craft in West African strip-woven cloth: papers presented at a symposium organized by the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, February 18-19, 1988. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for National Museum of African Art, pp.95-112 and plates between p.112 and p.113.
Picton, John. 1980. Women’s weaving: the manufacture and use of textiles among the Igbirra [Ebira] People of Nigeria. In: Dale Idiens and K.G. Ponting, eds. Textiles of Africa. Bath: Pasold Research Fund Ltd., pp.63-88.
Picton, John. 1992. Tradition, technology and lurex: some comments on textile history and design in West Africa. In: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. History, design, and craft in West African strip-woven cloth: papers presented at a symposium organized by the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, February 18-19, 1988. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for National Museum of African Art, pp.13-52.
Silk work. 1938. Nigeria Magazine. no. 14, p.129. [Ebira]
Smith, Shea Clark. 1975. Kente cloth motifs. African Arts. 9(1), pp.36-39.
Ukeje, L.O. 1962. Weaving in Akwete. Nigeria Magazine. no. 74, pp.32-41.
Wenger, S., and H. Ulli Beier. Adire—Yoruba pattern dyeing. Nigeria. no. 54, pp.208-225.
Unpublished Works : please contact staff for a list of unpublished works
Rea, W. (2012). Panel text to ‘Yoruba Textiles: cloth and tradition in West Africa’. ULITA – an Archive of International Textiles, University of Leeds, September 2012 – March 2013. Full text available via ulita.leeds.ac.uk/events/yoruba-textiles/ [correct 2017]
O’Hear, Ann. Additions to the Lovejoy-Adesiyun Collection, featuring Aso-Oke cloth production, deposited in the Harriet Tubman Resource Centre, Harriet Tubman Institute, York University, Toronto, Canada: available at http://digital.tubmaninstitute.ca/collections/show/11 [correct 2017].
Tijani, Ajara. Aso Ofi [Aso Oke] Traditional Cloth Weaving in Yorubaland. Published 30 June 2017, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgnpTOlrfv4&t=15s This video shows various aspects of Aso Oke weaving in Ilorin, Yorubaland . [viewed 6 November 2017]