Saturday, October 04, 2008

The 4th good thing about Northern Nigeria: Visiting the dye pits

This sign at the entrance to the Kofar Mata dye pits has the date of 1998, but that was on occasion of the 500th anniversary of the founding of the dye pits in 1498. "The Kofar Mata pits are said to be the oldest in Africa and are the only survivor of Kano's dye trade -- which once included 13 pit complexes. Close to the royal palace, its colors have adorned the fabrics of Kano's traditional rulers for centuries," says this interesting article from Reuters about the dye pits. Here's the link, if you are interesting in reading more about it.

Our guide told us about the process they use in dying cloth. Into the deep pits are mixed water, potassium and ash and then twigs of indigo are added. This mixture is fermented for 4 weeks before the process of dyeing the cloth can begin.

When dyeing the cloth, it must be repeatedly dipped in the pit and then brought out into the air, as oxygen is a vital part of the process. This goes on for 4-6 hours, depending on how dark the desired color.

After dyeing, the color needs to be fixed with a mixture of salt and vinegar in water, or the blue dye will easily rub off.

Alongside the pits is a small circular building and inside there are a bunch of boys with wooden mallets who are pounding the cloth. We were told it was to give the fabric a sheen.

Everywhere we went in Northern Nigeria, while we were viewing different sights, we were the attraction for the locals. Just as much as we enjoyed seeing the dye pits, local residents seemed to enjoy watching us.

As in Lagos, goats are everywhere in the North.

And then the selling began. Some fabrics were hand-woven and some were machine made. They were happy to sell both. I bought one large piece and three smaller ones, probably to use for a quilt, but I might also make something to wear with them.

And then outside the gate, another crowd of people watching us go on our way.

No comments: