Thursday, 14 July 2016

A Unique Yoruba Silk and Indigo Agbada


The unique feature of this classic late C19th Yoruba robe is the cloth from which it was tailored. One of the most prestigious and expensive patterns of Yoruba aso oke strip weave was dark indigo hand spun cotton with a very fine check pattern of lighter blue or white cotton. This pattern was called etu, meaning "guineafowl" after the bird's speckled plumage. Etu, for those with a deep understanding of Yoruba cultural tradition, formed one of a triumuvirate of prestige textiles, along with local wild silk sanyan, and magenta silk, called alaari, that was imported across the Sahara to northern Nigeria from the C1th until the start of the C20th. Sometimes the fine check of etu was changed to a larger check, then called petuje, which can be roughly translated as "surpasses etu".


Over the years I have collected a very small number of cloths, certainly less than ten, where the lighter coloured cotton that forms the check pattern against the dark indigo ground of etu is replaced with magenta alaari silk, thereby referencing two of the three prestige textiles at once. However this robe is the only known example where expensive alaari silk has been used to form a large check petuje pattern that was used to tailor a man's robe. The robe is sewn by hand throughout and decorated with a well executed hand embroidery in a classically Yoruba style. Condition is excellent. Dates from circa 1900. Measurement: Length 49 inches, width 102 inches/ length 125 cm, width 260 cm


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