‘Adi’, meaning ‘to tie’ and ‟re’ which means to dye’ is the name given to indigo-dyed cloth produced by the Yoruba of South Western Nigeria using a variety of resist-dye techniques that reflect the culture, language and art tradition of the Yoruba people. The earliest form of Adire was Kijipa, a prototype of cotton, locally-woven hand-spun cloth dyed with indigo. The Indigo dye is made from the chopped and pounded leaves of the African indigo plant. The cloth takes on a brown color, which immediately oxidizes with air and becomes a beautiful deep blue color. The Alaro controls production of Adire while Aladire controls its marketing.

The major Yoruba cities traditionally noted and recognised for Adire are Abeokuta, Ede, Ibadan, Ondo and Osogbo. Of all the centers, Osogbo is traditionally renowned as the home of indigo, and the “home of dyeing”; “Osogbo ilu aro” and the people are so good as dyers as to elicit the Yoruba saying “Aro nbe l’Osogbo, omo eniyan ni mbe nile Ibadan,” translating it is Indigo dominates Osogbo, while large human population dominates Ibadan. As a distinctive textile-type, Adire first emerged in the city of Abeokuta in the 19th century.

Indigo Dyers in Osogbo
Indigo dyers (Alaro) at the Nike Centre for Art sand Culture, Oshogbo, Nigeria | ©Mary Lance. Picture via Blue Alchemy Indigo
Adire Sellers in Ibadan
Aladire (adire sellers in the market in Ibadan). Picture probably taken around 1970, by Nancy Stansfield, and scanned from “African Textiles” by Picton & Mack
Adire market in Abeokuta
Adire sales in Itoku market, Abeokuta, Ogun state, Nigeria. Picture via, Toby Nwazor’s article on Bella Naija

The Resistant Cloth
Raffia and starch were the two most common forms of resist used in Adire production. Early 20th century brought new access to large quantities of imported shirting material due to the spread of European textile merchants in Abeokuta and other Yoruba towns. The women discovered that the imported white cotton shirting was cheaper than the hand-woven cloth and could be decorated and dyed to meet local tastes. The soft, smooth texture of the import cloth, in contrast to the rough surface of kijipa cloth, provided a new impetus for decoration. This caused a boom in these women’s entrepreneurial and artistic efforts, making Adire a major local craft in Abeokuta and Ibadan, attracting buyers from all over West Africa, causing a peak in the demand for indigo-dyed fabric for export. Many Adire producers in Abeokuta had to take their cloth to Osogbo for dyeing, while its neighboring town of Ede supplied Abeokuta dyers with indigo balls, Elu. The cloth’s basic shape became that of two pieces of shirting material stitched together to create a woman’s wrapper cloth. Abeokuta remained the major producer and trade center for Adire, but Ibadan, a larger city to the north, developed a nucleus of women artists who specialized in hand-painted Adire Eleko.

Women in Adire
Her name is Adire
Indigo Plant
Her name is Indigo

Photo Credit: Arcadia Film Produktion

Raffia Thread Resist Technology: ADIRE ONIKO
Adire Oniko involves tying, binding, or covering specific portions of the fabric with iko, the raffia thread so that the areas so covered invariably results into the Adire patterns. Techniques from tying technology include knotting, binding, folding, stitching and clamping, using iko the raffia thread in one form or the other, or any of the several other flexible binding materials apart from raffia thread that have been used in the last five and a half decades. This technique produced Adire Eleso (seed / circles motif bearer) probably the oldest, simplest, most basic, and commonest Adire design which involves using hundreds of single corn kernels or pebbles to produce small white circles on a blue background. Osubamba (Big Moon) comprises of very big circles interspersed with tiny ones, and Alakete (straw bowler hat motif bearer) which are tiny circles arranged into large concentric.

Eleso
Eleso
Osubamba
Osubamba
Alakete
Alakete

Photo Credit: preserve.us, Gbemi Areo

The twisting technique Elelo involves twisting the fabric to be dyed from its two ends along its entire length.
The pleating technique, Sabada is a versatile technique capable of producing many variants and involves accordion pleating of the fabric, and tying at intervals along its length before dyeing.
The clamping technique evolved by the end of last millennium, involves clamping layers of accordion pleated fabric between a set of wood, or metal clamps. The projecting ends of the clamps are then secured tightly with raffia or any suitable thread before the dye is applied. It was dubbed “Awilo” after the popular Congolese Makosa musical artiste of the year 2000.

Elelo
Elelo
Sabada
Sabada
Awilo
Awilo

Pgoto Credit: Gbemi Areo

The knotting technique involves overhand knots at intervals along the length of the fabric, which is then secured with raffia prior to dyeing.
The stitching technique involved hand-stitching with needle and raffia thread, many variants were produced under this subgroup. Onikoko (Cocoa) which involves stitching criss-crossing short lines that produce shapes similar to the cocoa pods, Ologede (Banana – shaped) with stitched straight parallel lines interspersed with zig-zag ones, and Onika (finger – shaped) comprising of hand –stitched double lines interspersed with star-like lines alternating with short vertical lines. Amuga (scissors) which is recognizable by the X-lines stitched inside stitched rectangular shapes demarcating the entire fabric. Onila Ati Ika or Pele Onika (Facial marks and fingers) which consists of squares alternately filled with the finger – like motif and vertical lines before being dyed. Eleyin (egg – shaped) made up of diagonal crisscrossing lines, and Igi Oye (chieftaincy tree) with the space between each set of stitched six parallel lines further filled with branching lines.

Knotting Method
Knotting Method
Onikoko
Onikoko
Ologede
Ologede
Onika
Onika, also known as Onipetesi by Osogbo dyers
Amuga
Amuga
Pele Onika
Pele Onika
Eleyin
Eleyin
Igi Oye
Igi Oye

Phot Credit: Gbemi Areo, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Barbour & Simmonds, 1971

Adire Alabere: Later in the 1930s, men used the treadle sewing machine, as an attempt to increase production and reduce production time, as the demand for Adire increased. This evolution also provided an avenue for men to gain entrance into the female-controlled industry, and a wide range of methods identifiable under this technique are; Torofonkale (three-pence – scattered- all- over -the house), a pattern resulting in straight rows of white patches, and Ogosofin, a pattern comprising of squares filled with different varieties of vertical, horizontal and crisscrossing lines and at times tiny circles in concentric arrangement stitched within some of the squares, also known as Ikorita “the meeting of the roads” and welcome to masquerade. Oloparun (Bamboo – form), is of bold straight parallel lines that cover the whole length of the fabric, Onisuga or Iyo Oyinbo (Sugar cubes) comprises of cubes, Alaale (Floor pleated) is made of thin straight lines arranged closely together, while Sunsun (squeezed – pattern) comprises of tiny close stitches, producing an overall speckled dyed effect.

Torofonkale
Torofonkale
Ogosofin
Ogosofin , also known as Ikorita
Oloparun
Oloparun
Onisuga
Onisuga
Alaale
Alaale
Sunsun
Sunsun

Photo Credit: Gbemi Areo

However, women retained the dyeing specialty and continued to do tying, hand-painting, and hand-sewing to prepare the cloth for dyeing, but decorating techniques involving sewing machine stitching and applying starch through zinc stencils were taken up by men.

Starch Resist Technology: ADIRE ELEKO
This technique involves the use of starchy substance known as eko, a staple food prepared from corn slurry. This was later replaced by the usage of cassava flour lafun. The slurry is prepared by adding either corn or cassava flour to a quantity of boiling water to which alum and copper sulphate has been added. The paste prevents dye penetration while the alum prevents the starch from peeling into the dye bath during the dyeing process. There are four other methods in this medium, but with varying technology in their pattern creation; Freehand Eleko, Stencil Eleko, Eleko Splash, and Lace Eleko.

Freehand Eleko: The hand-painted Adire Eleko is the oldest, and most laborious. The fabric is first folded and pressed into distinct squares with the fingers or a small mallet. Palm fronds or feathers from the wings of fowls traditionally serve as the painting brush, with other tools such as; match sticks, knife, traditional wooden comb, ooya, and corn cob. The artist intermittently dips into the starch and draws from memory all she had imbibed from her master who traditionally and usually is her mother or a female member of her family. This technique produced Olokun design literally “wealth comes from overseas, wealth makes life sweet” and the classic “Ibadandun”, which translates as “Ibadan is sweet or happy” takes its name from the pillars of Mapo Hall: Ibadan’s town hall) and is popular to this day.

Stencil Eleko (“Adire Batani” a bastardized pronunciation of the word pattern). While the women still retained the traditional method of dyeing, men turned out patterns using stencils to copy the traditional freehand motifs. This technique produced Ogun Pari literally “war has finished”

Eleko Splash, the whole cloth is sometimes smeared all over with starch paste, while a comb is then drawn through the paste to create linear patterns on the fabric creating pattern called Onikomu

Lace Eleko involved using intricate lacy floral patterns early in the new millennium. These lace materials commonly sold in second-hand cloth market as window and door blinds for home furnishing, were spread flat on the fabric to be patterned, and starch paste forced through their lacy holes onto the fabric in a stencil-like manner. The resultant effect is a replication of this detailed floral pattern on the dyed fabric

Adire Eleko, Olokun
Olokun
stencil eleko
Ogun Pari
Ibadandun
Ibadandun

Photo Credit: Art Discovery, Adire African Textiles

Adire wrappers were sold as far away as Ghana, Senegal, and the Congo. At the height of Adire production in the 1920s, Senegalese merchants came to Abeokuta to buy as many as 2,000 wrappers in one day from the female traders. A regional and international economic decline at the end of the 1930s led to a decline in the craft, so that in the 1940s no major innovations in production occurred. By the 1950s Adire production had significantly slowed, and few young people were being trained in the craft. Adire cloths which were once a daily commodity, mainly as clothing, were now barely produced.

I recent times however, political figures and celebrities have worn Adire-inspired clothes.

Buhari and Oyegun in Adire
Buhari and Oyegun in Adire
Obasanjo in Adire
Obasanjo in Adire
Osinbajo in Adire
Osinbajo in Adire
Michelle Obama in Adire
Michelle Obama in Adire
Lupita in Adire
Lupita Nyong’o in Adire

Photo Credit: Alashock.com, 360nobs.com

Reference Materials and Further Reading:
Adire in Western Nigeria. Ibadan: Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan
Areo, Margaret O. (2004). “Adire: The Dynamics of Yoruba Resist Dyed Cloths.” Africa; Journal of Contemporary Issues, Vol. 2 (3). 313-320
Barbour,Joanne. & Simmonds,D. eds. 1971. Adire Cloth in Nigeria. (Ibadan)
Beier, U. 1997. A Sea of Indigo, Yoruba Textile Art (Peter Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal)
Byfield, J. 2002. The Bluest Hands: A social and economic history of women dyers in Abeokuta (Nigeria), 1890-1940 (Heinemann/ James Currey)
Poliakoff, C. African Textiles and Dyeing Techniques (1982)
National Museum of African Art. (1997). Adire: Resist-Dyed Cloths of the Yoruba.:

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