Thursday, 24 March 2011

“Ibadan is sweet:” exploring a Yoruba adire eleko cloth.


(click on the photo for a larger view. Image copyright Duncan Clarke 2011. Do not reproduce without permission.)

Adire eleko is a tradition of elaborate indigo dyed resist patterned cloths that flourished among the Yoruba people of south west Nigeria from the early C20th until the 1970s. Eleko means “with starch” and refers to the cassava starch hand painted on the cloth as a resist agent prior to dyeing with indigo, while adire is Yoruba for “tie and dye”, alluding to the earlier traditions of resist patterning from which this style was created.

The cloth shown above is a notably fine example of one of the classic adire eleko designs, called “Ibadandun”, which translates as “Ibadan is sweet or happy.” Ibadan, a large city north of Lagos, was, along with Abeokuta, the major centre where adire cloths were made. It was collected in the 1960s by Doig Simmonds, co-editor with Jane Barbour of the important book “Adire Cloth in Nigeria” (Institute of African Studies, Ibadan, 1971.)

In this post I will explore some of the designs that make up an Ibadandun, drawing on another publication by the late Jane Barbour that is still the most detailed documentation of adire designs (“Nigerian ‘Adire’ Cloths”, Baessler-Archiv, Neue Folge, Band XVIII, 1970.) Each completed cloth had a different combination of these designs, together with others, and individual variations on them. The interpretations that Barbour collected, a few of which are given below, seem to have been widely agreed in some cases, disputed in others, but are nevertheless worth noting.


Spoons and the pillars of Mapo Hall. Mapo Hall is a grand pillared structure built in Ibadan in the late 1940s.


Umbrella and cassava leaves.


Eggs. I have heard this called cocoa pods.


Hens, hedgehogs, divination board, roundabouts..


Chameleons, scorpions, hens..

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