Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cloth of the month: An Owo Yoruba royal shawl


AS394 - Unique royal shawl cloth "elegheghe" woven by a weaver called Obamadesara in the Yoruba town of Owo. Obamadesara was a prince in one of the royal compounds of Owo who travelled widely around Nigeria in his youth and returned to the town around 1920. From then until his death in the 1950s he wove a small number of shawl cloths for women in his lineage in a unique style that included the tapestry weave lizzard motif shown here (similar patterns on other West African textiles were woven using an entirely different supplementery weft float technique.) Owo was a centre of weaving by women on the upright loom but aside from a few migrants from Ilorin had no tradition of narrow strip weaving. It is likely that Obamadesara learnt to weave elsewhere in Nigeria and adapted his innovative cloths based on this as yet undiscovered tradition.


According to an article about him by a Nigerian academic, Dr Tunde Akinwumi, he was the only person to weave in this way and had no apprentices (I can supply reference etc if requested.) The article also suggests that he wove under 30 pieces in total. This cloth is the only one I know of with this complex check design, more typically they have a distinctive border along one edge as in the cloth shown on page 50 of John Gillow "African Textiles" (2003). Obamadesara's work is represented in museum collections by two cloths that we sourced, one now in the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris and the other in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This example uses hand spun thread throughout, is hand sewn, complete, and is in excellent condition, with minor fraying at one selvedge. Measurements: 66 ins x 39, 168 cm x 89.

Click on the photos to enlarge. More details on our gallery here.

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