From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
iseyin, in Oke-Ogun axis of Oyo State, is approximately 100 kilometres north of Ibadan. The community, as at 2011, was estimated to have a population of 302,990. It is the fourth largest city in the state after Ibadan, Ogbomoso and Oyo.
The primary industry of Iseyin is cotton-based textiles, and it is reputed as the home of Aso Ofi or Aso Oke, a popular traditional fabric worn on special occasions by the Yoruba usually for coronation, chieftaincy, wedding engagement, festivals, naming ceremony and other important events. The city can be accessed via Ibadan, Oyo, and Abeokuta.
Weaving of Aso Ofi was said to have begun about four centuries ago Ile-Ife. It could be traced to the progenitor of Yoruba race, Oduduwa. A recent bulletin by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi Ojaja II, said: “Aso Ofi was invented in Ile-Ife, the traditional headquarters of Yoruba race worldwide, and later taken to Iseyin by Olu Ofi from where it was made to spread across the world.”
Fibres used to weave the cloth were made locally in the olden days. But in these days, they are also sourced from neighbouring states, apart from synthetic fibres imported for the special traditional cloth. Weaving of Aso-Ofi, according to oral tradition, is as old as Iseyin, founded about 1732 by one Ebedi, a refugee warrior from Ilesa. Ebedi reportedly settled at a place now known as Oke-Ebedi, where he met some natives of Iseyin and introduced Aso-Ofi weaving trade to them.
The maiden Aso-Ofi festival was observed on September 27, 2016, during the World Tourism Day. The festival was conceptualised to showcase and celebrate a locally made fabric in Oyo State, which is now an internationally accepted brand.
The celebration created opportunities to harness the potential that abound, which include trade and commercial activities, employment and job creation.
Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr, Toye Arulogun, stated that financial institutions “have also been having serious and genuine engagements with the weavers and marketers while export opportunities are also being exploited.”
The 2017 edition of the festival, held from September 15 to 16, 2017, attracted Iseyin sons and daughters at home and in the Diaspora, as well as national and international tourists and traders.
The highlights of the two-day event included rally/carnival round the city of Iseyin, Aso-Ofi arts and crafts exhibition, Aso-Ofi weaving competition, colloquium, musical concerts, parade by the four zones of the Iseyin Weavers and Marketers Association and other stakeholders.
The festival also witnessed presentation of Pace-setter Entertainment and Recognition Awards (PERA), cultural performance, awards presentation, Aso-Ofi fashion show, and foundation laying stone of Aso-Ofi International Tourism Market.
Types of Aso Ofi
There are different types of Aso-Ofi. But the three among them have stood the test of time. They are Etu, Sanyan and Alaari. The difference among the three types has always been colour. While the characteristic of Etu has to do with dark blue with stripes, Sanyan is carton brown with white stripes. Alaari is crimson.
Other types of Aso-Ofi 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.
The Aso-Ofi is for the rich in the olden days because it is costly. The rich in those days usually wore sanyan, alaari and etu. But the poor would put on a typical cloth known as ‘kijipa.’
Those who wore kijipa were taken as 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’).
Hence, 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), 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 was 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 has been interpreted by experts as: “Kijipa, a lazy man’s cloth, Ofi, the cloth of elders. An elder who cannot afford Ofi, should buy kijipa. Sanyan is the father of cloth. Etu is the king of cloth. Alaari is next to it.”
Kente, fabrics that are handwoven in Ghana is similar to Aso-Ofi in the South West of Nigeria. Kente has gained global recognition, but it cannot be categorically said that aso-ofi has gained such global recognition.
Aso-Ofi International Tourism Market
Prior to this year’s Aso-Ofi festival, the Governor Abiola Ajimobi-led administration approved 13.579 Hectares of land for the establishment of Aso-Ofi International Tourism Market in Iseyin.
The market is expected to contain 500 weaving shed or workshops, 500 exhibition shops, a warehouse, first indigenous textile museum in Nigeria, a fire station, a clinic and a police station.
The foundation laying ceremony was performed by the deputy governor, Otunba Moses Adeyemo.
Arulogun justified the establishment of market in Iseyin: “It is obvious that when you have something that is propelling you and that is peculiar to you, you need to tap the resources and harness them, and make them economically viable.
“These are on two fronts; one is about our cultural heritage so that we do not lose it. Aso-Ofi fabric is a very indigenous textile to the Yoruba race, which we have its headquarters in Iseyin. So, it is important we preserve this culture because it is not something you wear on daily basis.
“The second thing is that there are many things you can use Aso-Ofi for. It can be used for shoes, bags, bedspreads, furniture, jeans, jackets and so on. Those other variants will lead us to economic viability of the textile itself.
“There is a trade in Iseyin that we’ll like to tap into. For us to tap into that trade, we need to modernise it, develop it, and we are starting to structure the market by establishing this international tourism market. We call it tourism market because there is a museum in it.
“Without modernisation, it is likely to go into extinction because they have competitors all over the world. The Chinese are producing Aso-Ofi. For me, we need to collaborate with them so that we can do a lot of more mass production. If a client wants Aso-Ofi that is manually woven, then it becomes like a premium price thing.
“People went to school in Iseyin by virtue of money from this trade. In every home, there is a weaver. We need to tap into that and develop it for them. The way we structured it, we are engaging the Public Private Partnership (PPP) platform which means somebody is going to put his money down.
“So, we are hoping that the first set of shops should be ready in another six to eight months. We are going to do it in phases.”
Chairman of Iseyin Local Government, Mr. Akanni Abolade, said: “There is no gainsaying the fact that the major problem confronting the state and the country at large is hydra-headed issue of unemployment. I forsee that with the take-off of this international market for Aso-Ofi, the socio-economic life of the good people of Iseyin will be boosted through employment opportunities for the teeming youths, promotion of Yoruba culture, reduction in social vices among the youth, increment in the tourist attractions, putting Iseyin and Oyo State on the tourism map in the world, raising the standard of living of the populace abd above all, enhance the Internally Generated Revenue of this local government and the state.”
Aso-Ofi weavers speak
Chairman, Planning Committee for Aso-Ofi festival, Mr. Kazeem Adewuyi, said: “We asked the governor to build an international market for us. We thank the government for granting our request this year. I am a weaver of Aso-Ofi and I have become a leader in the weaving trade since 1968. I was born into weaving of Aso-Ofi.
“I have done with this trade every good thing that a person should do in life. In this trade, I got married, have children and sent them to school, built a house and bought cars. This trade is good for jobless graduates.
“We are appealing to the government to help us make this international market a reality abd should not be abandoned. We have many graduates in Iseyin. They can come into this business.
“The government should also help us with funds to do this business. This trade will be of immense benefits to Nigeria. But we appeal to the government to kindly help us fix the roads that lead to Iseyin.”
Chairman, Alaso-Ofi, Iseyin, Alhaji Abdul-Raheem Ariwoola, said jobless graduates “can come and learn how Aso-Ofi production. They will not lag behind among their colleagues.”
He explained that when they produce Aso-Ofi, the marketing is usually done in Lagos, Ibadan, Ede in Osun State, Ondo and so on: “Those who buy from us also export the materials. Government should help us fix the roads that lead to Iseyin.”
President, Egbe Alaso-Oke in Iseyin, Alhaji Muraina Alarape, said: “This will bring progress to Iseyin. Many of our graduates have come back home to pick up weaving trade. There is no any Iseyin native that grew up here that does not know how to weave.
Once you are between eight and 10 years, you will go and learn weaving, according to our customs.
“Learning the trade does not stop our children from going to school. Weaving is the leading occupation in Iseyin. So, we appeal to the government to help us fix our deplorable roads.”
Tiamiyu Kehinde went into Aso-Ofi weaving shortly after his secondary school education. He makes a profit of N25,000 every month and he has not regretted joining the vocation. He also said he started weaving before he finished his primary school education and he did not plan to leave the trade for anything, though he admitted that he could go for part time courses that would hone his skills in Aso-Ofi weaving. He appealed to the government to fix the roads that lead to Iseyin and fulfil its promises on the international market.
Maximising potential of Aso-Ofi production
In a bid to maximise the potential of Aso-Ofi production for socio-economic development of Oyo State, the Provost, Emmanuel Alayande College of Education, Oyo, Dr. Rasaq Adefabi, noted that the production of Aso-Ofi has not risen beyond being individually handcrafted across the ages, not unconnected with challenges that researchers and master weavers identified as constituting inhibitions to mass production.
The major constraints, according to him, include colonial policy on textile development, assimilation of European values, non-adaptability of technology to its production, lack of definite government policy, non-standardisation of products, and dwindling popularity to its usage.
Adefabi, who delivered a lecture on the topic: “Maximising the Potential of Aso-Ofi Production for Socio-economic Development of Oyo State: Challenges and Way Forward,” also proferred solutions to the constraints. The government, he said, must evolve a policy to guide the transformation of Aso-Ofi from manual production to mechanised one.
He made a case for provision of funds and exposition of practitioners of the craft to relevant training that could enable them apply new technologies to the production process: “Craftsmen must evolve a new orientation since not much could be achieved as individuals. It is time to regroup and firm limited liability companies that specialise in the production of different aspects of Aso-Ofi.
Thus, a company could focus on the production of ‘Etu’ material, while another specialises on production of ‘Sanyan’ and so on.
“New technologies should be adapted intl the production of Aso-Ofi. Engines and scientists should rise to the challenge of inventing or fabricating machines that could be used in the mass production of Aso-Ofi.
“There is a need to change our disposition to the use of Aso-Ofi by using it much more frequently. It is by so doing that improvement could on the long run be brought to the product.
“Garment manufacturing companies in Turkey, Spain, France, and other parts of the world keep abreast of development because of the patronage they enjoy from all parts of the world. The same feat could be achieved if Yoruba abd by extension, Nigerians demonstrate enough patriotism to patronise our locally produced fabrics.”
Aseyin of Iseyin speaks
Aseyin of Iseyin, Oba Abful-Ganiyu Adekunle Salaudeen, Oloogun-Ebi Ajisebutu I, who was trained as a veterinary doctor, said: “We are happy that this is happening in Iseyin. For us, we know the importance of this project and how it will develop this city and the state. I must say that Ajimobi has done so well, but many people did not appreciate that fact.
“I know that people will thank him when he leaves the corridors of power. It is not possible to satisfy everybody, but you must be courageous to be governor or a king. So, he should continue with his good works.”