Aso-Oke, the traditional material making a very modern comeback
Aso-Oke is the short version of the more formal Aso Ilu Oke which roughly translates to ‘clothes from the up-country’. It is the traditional wear of the Yoruba tribe who originate from the south-west of Nigeria. They are the second largest tribe in the Nigeria and Aso-oke is often worn as a celebration cloth on special occasions and important events.
Aso-oke is a special hand-woven cloth and over centuries has become somewhat of the style marker of the Yoruba tribe. It was said to have been created in Yorubaland around the 15th century and since then spread around the land and its environs.
Aso Oke Seller by Zenithasooke
The method of making aso-ebi is painstaking. The threads used to weave the material is made out of cotton. The cotton is planted during the rainy season which falls in between June and July. By November and as late as January, the cotton is ready to be harvested.
The cotton is then spun to separate the cotton seed from wool and a spindler, known in Yoruba as ‘orun’ is used to achieve this. The weaver spreads the wool and processes it through the loom. As the spindler turns repeatedly, the cotton thins and this is done until all the wool has been spun. The cotton is then cleaned and sorted which is done manually and can be very time-consuming.
Once the cotton is purified, the signature designs and patterns characteristic of Aso-oke are ready to be created. This is the process where designs and patterns are made on the Aso-Oke while the cloth is being woven. During the pattern process, cotton reels are hung upon the hangers on the sets of the metallic pegs on the ground. After everything has been prepared, the weaving can begin.
The weaving, quite possibly the most important part of the process, is a delicate chore.The weaver deftly presses down on the pedals of the ‘orun’ and uses their hands to weave the material to create the signature designs in a variety of colours.
The entire process of creating Aso-Oke is a beautiful sight and seeing artisans who have spent long perfecting their craft make it so effortlessly is heart-warming. Watching plain cotton transform into the perfectly woven threads is testament to the craftsmanship we are capable of in Africa.
Despite being a traditional material, Aso-oke is making a very modern comeback. The new generations of creatives and designer are finding ways to marry the rich cultural history of Aso-oke with modern silhouettes.
One such designer who has successfully done this is Shekudo who is stocked on ONCHEK.com. The shoe and accessory designer’s signature look has become Aso-oke weave as they create modern and wearable footwear that is an ode to the Nigeria of the past. .