The Akwa Ocha Fabric

Akwa Ocha, a popular hand-woven cloth, is peculiar to the people of Anioma (Delta North senatorial district) of Delta State, which has three sub-constituencies; Aniocha/Oshimili, Ika and Ndokwa. These areas are the Igbo-speaking part of the state.
Akwa-Ocha, which literally means white cloth, is designed and woven for all-purposes but can also be customized to suit particular occasions or people of high social status. Akwa-Ocha is embellished with motifs and symbols reflective of the people’s religious and social beliefs. These motifs range from mundane to the spiritual and incorporate plants, animals, man-made objects, geometric shapes, as well as cosmological symbols. Beyond their ordinary function of clothing the wearers, Akwa-Ocha hand-woven fabrics assume other important and symbolic roles, such as social and other ritual significance.
Aniocha people use their Akwa-Ocha for most of their ceremonies believing that it inspires
certain mystic essence in ceremonies and rituals. Akwa Ocha is readily available in wrappers and mufflers, at every occasion or ceremony it is put to use, the men combine the fabric with which they tie around the waist region with a vest or T-shirt. For the women, they either tie Akwa Ocha above their breast or around the waist with a matching blouse. Since Nigeria is a country with mixed fashion and is undergoing changes at rapid pace, the importance of Akwa Ocha has offered some interpretation to the changing social and political landscape in modern Nigeria. This is because anyone who adorns Akwa Ocha at any ceremony does so as a mode of identity. It is to showcase the rich culture of the particular region or ethnic group in Nigeria. More so, apart from giving the wearers an identity, Akwa-Ocha highlights creativity and often makes the individual wearing it stand out in a crowd. However, Akwa Ocha weavers have not been able to respond to global fashion consciousness like other indigenous woven fabrics.

It is not clear where the fabric originated from, many are of the opinion that the people of Ubulu-Uku in Aniocha South Local Government Area started it. Ubulu-Uku is one of the several communities in Aniocha/Oshimili constituency, otherwise referred to as Enuani people, and the community is believed to have started producing Akwa Ocha after processing harvested cotton, which was widely cultivated in the area. It represents certain aspects of their culture however, the process of making it is very tedious. It is a combination of male and female efforts in the sense that the males would go to plant the cotton and do the harvesting. Then, in the evening, you see the women trying to filter the cotton. With modernisation, the weavers now go to the market to buy ready-made cotton threads in rims.

The culture of purity                                                                     Back in the day, not everybody had the privilege of wearing Akwa Ocha but there is a point it gets to, that an Anioma man is supposed to get the fabric as part of his collection. It is essentially an aspect of the  Anioma culture, a statement of their values. The Akwa Ocha has its own cultural and religious significance in terms of purity. If a man comes to marry an Anioma daughter, her father is expected to have trained her pure before giving her in marriage, she does not just go like that. The father accompanies his daughter to the house of her newly wedded husband with one yard of Akwa Ocha. On the first night of mating, it is expected that some blood drops on the Akwa Ocha. Eventually, it is with joy that the Akwa Ocha is returned as a testimony that the husband met the  daughter at home, that she was not wayward. The father would receive it with greater joy and the man would tie the wrapper as he goes out,

That is part of the culture of significance, talking about purity. 

There are also stages, for an Anioma man, when he could tie one across his shoulder as it is used during some occasions. During burial ceremonies, it is usually a sight to behold the Akwa Ocha contrasting with the red cap. Red in that sense is about royalty, it is also talking about valour. You don’t just wake up and start wearing the red cap!

As young ladies grow up in Anioma, there are certain things expected of them. One of such things is the making of Akwa Ocha just as a young Anioma man growing up too and there were certain things expected of him, he should be able to set traps and catch animals, climb palm trees and cut down bunches of palm nuts and these were attainments. The women should be able to weave Akwa Ocha fabric. If she could not weave, she should be able to buy from those who weave, as a gift to her man or husband.

As a treasured item, Akwa Ocha is among the most important two-dimensional art forms in Nigeria. It is not everyday clothing material, as it is reserved for special occasions. It is considered as precious gifts for important visitors.

Photo Credit: Vanguard News

People are not attracted to learning the skill of producing Akwa Ocha because of the laborious and time-consuming processes, it could take over two weeks to produce just a yard of the material.

The process of making Akwa Ocha is becoming extinct in Delta State, however, we hope to intensify our efforts at Bolakoka to increase interests in this fabric which subsequently improves demand and keeps the women weaving this fabric in constant production. You can purchase original Akwa Ocha fabric at our shop here