Friday, April 24, 2009

The 175th good thing about Lagos: A day trip to the city "under the rock"

Last Saturday we joined with other members of the Nigerian Field Society on a day trip to visit Abeokuta --a city whose name means "under the rock." It's a city known for its fabric, especially indigo dyed cloth. The journey took us a little over 2 hours. It's a good road into the city, likely because Abeokuta is the home town of the former Nigerian President, Obasanjo, and he undoubtedly funneled some money that direction. There was a stretch of road that seemed in the middle of nowhere lined with nice street lights (I don't know if they were operational, because it was in the daytime), and there were some big signs welcoming travelers onto the road to the city.
Once into the city, there was the usual traffic chaos and market business.

We passed some hillsides with big boulders and then came to the biggest boulder, Olumo Rock --the one that gives name to the "city under the rock." It was a surprise to find a real tourist attraction here -- it even had toilets (albeit without running water or TP). And it actually had an elevator to the top, but we got some exercise taking the stairs.

We had a guide who told us about the history of Olumo rock, how it served as a hideout during wars between tribes in ancient, as well as more modern times.

There were hollows in the stone where they pounded their yam and ground other food.

On the other side of the rock was a shrine with women priestesses waiting to collect our offerings.

There were also lots of children and goats running around.

On top of the rock was a great view of the city and surrounding countryside.

Our next stop was in town, after walking through the narrow passages of the market area, we reached a place where they were dyeing the cloth - one method of dyeing cloth with indigo is called adire.

In contrast to the dye pits we visited in Kano, these fabric dyers, dip fabrics into pots and barrels instead of holes in the ground. Some weeks ago I had attended a demonstration of indigo dyeing at the museum here in Lagos, where the speaker dyed cloth using indigo leaves and he said that was still done in Abeokuta. But the women dyeing cloth in this place said they were using powdered dye, not leaves.

They spread the cloth out to dry in between dippings in the dye. The fabric is often dipped over a period of days, many times, with the time in the sun a part of the process.

This man is spreading a cassava paste on the fabric before dying it. He is using a comb to pattern the paste, which serves as a resist for the dye.

They also use stencils like this one to place on the fabric and then spread the cassava paste on to pattern the fabric. They sometimes also do a tie dye method, gathering bunches of fabric to make circles where the dye doesn't reach. They also use a wax resist method of fabric decoration here. We also passed women sewing threads to gather and pleating fabric with reeds to make a pattern on the cloth for dyeing (they didn't want their picture taken).

We saw some fabric lying stretched out on the ground with children's dirty footprints across it -- and the chicken in this picture was enjoying having a run across the fabric. I guess it remains to be seen how this contributes to the dyeing process.

There were plenty of children watching us observe the process. They wanted their picture taken -- many of the adults declined my request to take their picture.

They didn't want us to take pictures of the room where workers were pounding the finished cloth with wooden mallets to give it a sheen and then folding it tightly, rubbing it with cakes of wax to "iron" it and stiffen it. Of course the last step was buying cloth at the market. Fabric here is sold in cut lengths of 5-6 yards and costs around $9-14 for each piece. Brent was relieved and I was sorry that our shopping time was so limited. But here's some of the fabric that I came home with. The piece of indigo fabric has both the combed pattern, as well as the stencil method. The other pieces are wax patterned prints. Nigerian fabrics are so beautiful and interesting and I'm getting quite a collection. Someday I'll get busy and sew a quilt with some of them!


Melissa said...

I would love to see that quit someday.

emily felts said...

I love getting to see other parts outside of Lagos vicariously through you and your adventures (while I have not seen much off the island!) Keep up the good posts.