A guest post from Sue Ubagu.
Whilst teaching in Central Nigeria in the mid 1970s, I was fascinated by the skills of local craftspeople. Amongst my adult students, I identified 70 distinct ethnic groups, each with their own identity, language, customs, traditions, and craft skills.
In the community, I befriended the four wives of the local Madarki (a religious leader, second in command to the Emir) who were superb weavers. They lived in a charming traditional compound in the heart of the old city of Keffi, and welcomed me on frequent occasions to demonstrate their weaving skills. Weaving was a social pastime for the women, who enjoyed the activity in the privacy of their secluded environment.
Using the vertical loom, locally sourced threads were intricately woven to create pieces of cloth, approximately 160 cm by 50 cm.
These were used for utilitarian purposes, such as blankets, towels, bed covers, etc. and more elaborate pieces served as wrappers, shawls, head ties, baby ties, etc.
Ceremonies and festivals required more decorative pieces, and new techniques and designs were frequently introduced. As the women became more experimental, the traditional cotton and wool threads were combined with metallic thread, and synthetic strands (sometimes in bright, florescent colours) to create an interesting, and often highly decorative, blend of colours, patterns, and textures. Shapes and symbols were incorporated into the designs, which sometimes had social, religious or superstitious significance, or were inspired by the local environment.
I was privileged to be witness to the women’s skills, and I was delighted when they offered to design and weave unique pieces for me! These are featured below, and use a variety of techniques, and incorporate lettering (which was very unusual), and natural, synthetic and metallic threads.