The two essays on Ulli Beier – with perhaps the exceptions of the recent two on the Williams Sisters – have been this Blog’s most read. When I saw a search engine term yesterday morning with “Yoruba sanyan”, I knew it’s become not only imperative but urgent to get these photographed and shown very soon because the essay that the search gave the readers who searched would not have met their expectations.
They wanted information on “Sanyan”, the khaki-color weave that has lines of white mixed with it. This is supposed to be Yoruba’s highest-ranked hand-woven textile and it is a common practice for this cloth to be used at coronations, weddings, chieftaincy title celebrations and other such grand occasions. The other two are the “Alaari” and “Etu” which that essay on “Cloth only wears to shreds …” dealt with:
“Alaari” is ALWAYS a dominant red with thin stripes of beige, green or yellow depending on the area of Yorubaland. The Ondo people, for example, tend to love stripes of greens and/or yellows combined with the dominant red while many areas prefer the dominant red with stripes of beige …”
Of course Yoruba culture is not static and over several decades, weavers have always introduced interesting combinations that employ imported cotton and silk threads which have resulted in the wonderful hues that abound at festive occasions not only in Southwestern Nigeria home of the Yoruba but throughout Nigeria. Liberia’s President, Ellen Sirleaf, has taken to completing her outfits with the “iborun” (“ipele” in modern Yoruba usage) and “gele”, and I must say she always looks very wonderful in them. Winnie Mandela wore them on Mandela’s first tour out of South Africa after his long imprisonment.
The modern versions, which the guy I always go to when I need “aso oke” that would not be common all over Southwestern Nigeria derided as “igba l’o de ni won yen, nwon ma a lo” are nothing to be looked down upon. Alhaji Alarape, one of the best-known of Iseyin major dealers, put the modern designs down in what I can describe as the equivalent of comparing genuine pearl to costume jewelry version of the real thing! Actually, I’m not a big fan of “igba l’o de”, either because the fashions do change as Alhaji said: ”those are fads and they will disappear”!
I think I like what the cloth weavers are doing: the modern weavers are not splashing the three classics with “igba l’o de” cloths which would be difficult to do, anyway because they are always woven with cotton thread.
Now, China has reared her engulf-and-devour head by attempting to weave not just the classics but the fads. Younger people seem to take to the pale [synthetic] dyes that produce wondrous palettes but the stiffness is not that acceptable to older people. China’s attempt at reproducing the classics has been disastrous with cloths that feel and look unreal; many of these come out opaque! I’ve also seen designs of the past like “omo langidi” patented by Chinese factories!
Apart from the three great classics, I will work at photographing as many of the modern designs – no, NOT the China-made – as I come across from now on, and when I do, I will share them on this blog with readers.