Aso-oke is beyond just a fabric. It is an iconic visual representation of the history, philosophy, occupation, social values, religious beliefs and spirituality of the ancient people of Yoruba tribe in Southwest Nigeria.
The uniqueness of Aso-oke fabric cannot be overemphasized, likewise its usage is beyond what many people may know of. The ageless hand-woven fabric is highly monumental amongst the Yoruba tribe in southwest, Nigeria, and was used for many purposes beyond clothing materials. Prior to its global acceptance in the fashion industry and usage in producing contemporary fashion designs, the historical fabric was used for social, occupational and religious purposes.
Basically, the fabric is a clothing material sewn by both men and women. The Yoruba men use Aso-oke to make complete dress consisting of sokoto (trousers), buba (top), agbada (large embroidered flowing gown) and fila (cap), while the Yoruba women use it to sew iro and buba (wrapper and blouse) with gele (head-tie) and ipele or iborun (shawl).
Also, Aso-oke is a very important and valuable material for women during child nursing. Yoruba women use aso-oke as girdle (oja) to strap babies on their backs. The girdle (oja) is used to firmly hold babies on their backs. It is a Yoruba culture and Africa generally to carry their babies on their backs.
The fabric also serves occupational purpose. Due to the thickness of Aso-oke fabric and its turgidity, it is used as work dress for Yoruba men in the ancient times on their farms. Aso-oke is durable, does not fade easily and conserves dirt for a longer period. Aso-oke is also used for the making of hunter’s shirt and knickers (gberi ode) which is attached with many charms and amulets.
Aso-oke is highly valued as special gift for dignified people, and it is an important wedding gift for the bride’s family in Yoruba land. The fabric is part of the wedding list (eru iyawo) requested by the bride’s family from the groom before he can be allowed to marry their daughter.
Aso-oke is also used as aso-ebi (commemorative cloth) among the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. Aso-ebi connotes the wearing of a chosen or commissioned cloth as a uniform dress to commemorate or celebrate an event or occasion. Aso ebi is a strong expression of communal, solidarity and love.
Aso-Oke is also used for religious purposes as egungun costume. Egungun is an ancestral worship among the Yoruba, which refers to ‘masked men’ who represent the spirits of the living dead. Egungun costumes vary among communities. Some communities like the Oyo use aso-oke in elaborate costumes that have a long trail behind them. A new strip of aso-oke is added to the egungun costume to add up to its beauty every year which implies that the age of an egungun can be calculated from the strips.
Aso-oke is also used as decorating shrines where Yoruba worship their gods. Likewise, it is used as a sacred cloth by the ogboni society among the Ijebu-Yoruba. It is referred to as itagbe, an insignia of the cult of Ogboni people. It is used to cover some religious objects e.g. ere-ibeji, osanyin, edan and used.
Yoruba beliefs system allows charms as source of protection. Hence, charms inform of wristlets are also made from aso-oke when combine with the skin of the alligator, and supported with some rituals and incantations which the Yoruba people refers to as “ifunpa” (armlet) or “ounde” (waist band).
Lastly, in an attempt to protect ‘abiku’ (believed to be a “spirit-child” with the ability to die severally and be born again by the same mother, ashes of aso-oke are usually combined with other magical substances in making protective charm to break this cycle of death and rebirth. fabricate was also used to placate the witches.
Photo Credit: @ceomaniaalasooke