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Modernising Aso-Oke To Attract Younger Generation

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… Urge Government Partnership With Weavers To Provide Employment Skills To Youths

…. Aso-Oke Festival To Open October 26

In Oke-Ogun, in the ancient town of Iseyin, Oyo State, Aso-Oke weaving was born. First worn by the near-mythical Oduduwa 400,000 years ago, the Aso-Oke was fast losing its importance and history to the reproductive curse of globalisation and lack of government support.
That was until weavers begun modernising the material, making them a part of every day living to attract the younger generation, as a means of keeping the tradition alive.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Books & Arts, weaver and secretary, planning committee for Aso-Oke, Iseyin, Ismail Salam, said in modernising the materials, weavers have begun using the Aso-Oke to make footwears, accessories, furniture and other interior design pieces.
Weavers, he noted, work with cobblers, jewelry and fashion designers in creating shoes, sandals, purses, ear-rings, caps, bags and several other products young people use daily to induce more contact and their acceptance of the material.

“Weavers have learnt to blend Aso-Oke with other materials, and also weave different textured Aso-Oke into one design. The result is quite successful that people hardly believe it’s Aso-Oke unless they are told so. There are the thin yarns for the lighter Aso-Oke, and the thick ones for the heavier material. Some weavers are also stoning the Aso-Oke to suit the blingy tastes of the present generation,” punctuated Salam.
Nothing screams modern as the use of the Aso-Oke for furniture and interior decorating. It is amazing the effect of a well harmonised multicoloured Aso-Oke upholstered furniture has on the senses, as we flipped through pages of a colourful brochure displaying furniture pieces upholstered with Aso-Oke that Salam brought in.

But, to keep up with modernisation and to produce in the commercial quantity required to cater to the present generation, weavers must overcome the looming dangers of globalisation, and avoid being overshadowed by expatriate weavers’ intent on being the dominant suppliers of the material, particularly in China and the US. Recently, an American, Nathaniel B Styles and his team, had visited the weaving centers in Iseyin, and talks are ongoing to begin skill and trade exchange with the 16 weaving zones of the Oke-Ogun area. However, from the ongoing negotiation, the exchange appears one-directional, with Nigeria imparting the knowledge. Addressing concerns if they are not worried that expatriates with their access to locally produced materials and funds will study and overtake the local weavers’ commercial production and exportation of Aso-Oke, Salam brushed aside any immediate danger of that happening.

“China tried that already, but it didn’t work. The Aso-Oke woven over there cannot compare to ours in Oke-Ogun, Ife, Ogun or Ekiti State.”
He did note, however, that the weavers needed help in order to produce in commercial quantities to cater to their local and foreign clientele.
At present, many of the weavers are solepreneurs, weaving in their homes or at the designated open-air zones. And production is often hampered by inclement weather. As we experienced, having a go at the Aso-Ofi (weaving machines) under the patient guide of weaver, Adebayo Idris, weaving is an arduous and time-consuming craft.

Lone weaving is not so profitable. There are limited results to show for it. Weaver, Prince Adekunle, said an investment of N150,000 to N500,000 is required to run a solo weaving business, while N500,000 to N1m and above is standard investment price for partnership ventures. “Starting an Aso-Oke business is not cheap. It is better to start right, and hire hands to work at the various departments of weaving, like wetting the yarn, stretching of yarn, threading the yarn to the Asa, etc. A partnership with a weaver and a marketer or supplier works best,” said Adekunle. Applauding the government’s aid to the industry last June, via the provision of N10m single digit interest loans for weavers, payable in two and half years, Salam said unlike the previous low and double-digit interest loans offered weavers by microfinance institutions, the new loan boosted more weavers to engage in commercial production knowing they can meet up with the loans.
In addition, the state government provided a 13.5 hectares land located opposite the Iseyin-Ibadan motor park to erect an international weaving market, with a 500-weaver capacity warehouse/shed to house all Iseyin weavers and will include a fire and police station amongst other facilities.

In the meantime, while the warehouse is yet to be constructed, weavers have urged government to partner with them to impart employment skills in Nigerian youths. “This was the job of our forefathers. Some of us were born into this profession, and some of our children, despite being educated, choose to return to weaving. One can make as much as N40,000 to N50,000 in the weaving business per week, Salam said pointing out a young man busy tethering yarns to iron staked on the ground ready for weaving, as proof. “We advise government to bring more people into the business for us to train, so rather than remain jobless, they’d learn and make money.” Glo Network, Salam reveals, has taken the initiative and is discussing such partnership with the weavers. Meantime, while the drive to go global is necessary, the point raised by a tourist, Mary-Jane Okon is crucial, whatever potential exchange between Nigeria and expatriates must be mutually beneficial. “We learn from them, they learn from us, particularly in the production of yarns which our weavers import from India and China,” the petite Okon stressed.

Mayhap the knowledge exchange in the production of cotton, the second largest polluter, in the globe, is counter-productive with the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), investing in research to finding alternatives to cotton or sustainable methods used by our forefathers and early weavers of Aso-Oke lost with the passage of time, owing to lack of documentation, is overdue. On October 26, the weavers and people of Iseyin celebrate the Aso-Oke festival, which convenes traditional fashion enthusiasts across continents to Iseyin ending in a street parade. Such festivals can serve as means of networking and partnerships with countries like the Philippines, popular for its revolutionising of fashion via its use of fibers from pineapple and bananas to create fabrics; and its clever patterning and weaving of its traditional fabrics to keep its clothing cultures alive in its younger generation.



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