Saturday, August 4, 2012

Nigeria: Akwete Cloth -- An Igbo Textile Art


WEAVING is an ancient craft of man dating to the early new stone age when he learnt to make a rough kind of clothing from the fibers of flax plants. Weaving is described as the orderly interlacing of fibres and pressing them together to make the cloth.

In Nigeria, cloth weaving is universally practised in most urban areas and cities like Abeokuta, Ilorin, Iseyin, Akwete, Okene, Benin, Sokoto, Borno, Kano, Bida and Iseyin area among others. Raffia and cotton are most-widely used in cloth-weaving in Nigeria.

Cloth is material of great economic, cultural, political and social importance. Before the introduction of coinage currency in Nigeria, cloth was used as trade good and currency item. It is worn for body beautification and decoration, and for ceremonies. There are different types of cloth-making among various ethnic groups of Nigeria. The Yoruba are famous for Aso-Oke traditional fabric weaving.

Aso-oke is just a local homespun cotton cloth woven by men as narrow-strip cloth, usually woven with vertical stripes in different colours on background colour. The Hausa are known for Kura cloth-making which is deep blue black and shining design.

The Igbo also are known widely for Akwete-cloth weaving which is basically done by women. Akwete cloth is a special woven fabric by Igbo women in Akwete area near Aba in Abia State. It is originally referred to as "Akwa Miri" (Cloth of the water) meaning towel. Akwete cloth weaving is said to be as old as the Igbo nation.

Socio-cultural importance: Because of the dexterity of the weavers who demonstrated evincingly great mastery of technique and beauty of design, the art of Akwete-cloth weaving was erroneously believed to have been introduced from Okene in Kwara state where a similar but highly developed style earlier existed.
Patterns of red and black designs:

However, Akwete cloth comes in different colours and designs. Some are in the patterns of red and black designs, interwoven in geometric patterns on the white ground which is favoured by Igbo men. It is mainly used as a towel for bathing. The Akwete cloths, woven from sisal-hemp fibres are of coarse type, used by masqueraders, and by warriors as headgears, while those made from raffia fibres are used on religious occasions like the Ozo titleship, and for mourning by women.

But the most popular Akwete cloth is the type of cotton fabric woven from cotton fibres in colourful patterns; the weavers have much preference for bright and strong colour like red and yellow. Traditionally, the raw cotton fibres that surround and protect cotton seeds do undergo some processes before use, namely: First, ginning process, by which the cotton seeds are removed from the fibres by rolling a rod over the cotton ball. Second, bowing process, which involves making cotton fibres fluffy by flicking the string of a small bow against them until they look like cotton wool.

Third, spinning process, which is done by pulling the fibres into threads. Processing of the cotton fibres from the cotton seeds is not the same with that of the raffia fibres. Raffia as we know is the fibre from the fresh leaf of the palm tree. The process of extracting fibre from the thorny raffia palm frond demands a special skill by the woman weaver. She first of all starts from the tip, the distal end by splitting it, and then gently pulls down to the inflorescence.

Weaving as gender defined job: She dries the fibres in the sun or by the fire place to make them dry enough for use in weaving. Generally, it is women who process the raffia fibres or cotton fibres or any other kind of fibres for used in weaving.

Wide vertical loom:

Weaving is done on a loom. There are two types of loom namely: horizontal loom which is used by men weavers; vertical loom, used by women weavers. Both types of loom operate on the same principle.

An Akwete woman weaves on a wide vertical loom which produces cloth about 115cm wide x 1609cm long; the length of the finished product is normally twice the height of the loom. Thus, after processing the cotton to desired thread form, the weaver fixes a set of threads on the loom to form the warp and then the weft thread (net-work of thread) is passed over and under the warped thread.

The weft thread can be passed over more than one warped thread at a time to produce variations of thread colours and patterns in the woven cloth. As the weaving progresses, the finished cloth is slipped down over the lower beam and up and back. Then, the weaver uses a weaving stick to separate the odd and eve warp thread before she winds the weft thread onto a long narrow stick which is passed from side to side.

It is expedient to reiterate that Akwete cloth is usually made of cotton thread, and the decorative motifs are produced with cotton threads of a heavier texture or rayon silk.

Politics of cloth: The decorative motifs appear mostly on one side of the cloth, though they can appear on both sides. The decorative motifs are given names which are suggestive of their appearance. A few among them are animals heart; children's fingers; comb; earring; snake-back; stool and tortoise. However, some weavers can give different names to motifs that are not suggestive of their appearance. In the olden days, the "tortoise" motif (ikaki) is only worn by members of royal families and if anybody from non-royal family dares wear it, he or she could be punished or be sold into slavery.

The "ebe" design is specially reserved for use as a protective talisman for pregnant women or warriors. Most of these designs or motifs are by inspiration because the weavers claim that certain motifs are revealed to them by the gods, and as a result, no weaver is allowed to copy the design and it therefore dies with its owner.

Nigeria: World Igbo Congress Admitted Into UNECOSOC


United Nations — The World Igbo Congress (WIC), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has been admitted into the United Nations' Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Dr. Acho Orabuchi, Media Director of WIC, announced this in a statement made available in New York on Tuesday.

The statement said WIC's admission took place during a regular session of the world body in Geneva on Tuesday.

"The world body unanimously voted to ratify the admission of WIC into the ECOSOC of the UN on a Special Consultative Status," it said.

Article 71 of the UN Charter opened the door, providing for suitable arrangements for consultation with NGOs.

To be eligible for consultative status, an NGO must have been in existence for at least two years and must have an established headquarters.

Being in existence means being officially registered with the appropriate government authorities as an NGO or non-profit body.

Also, for an NGO to gain this status, it must have, among others, a democratically-adopted constitution and authority to speak for its members.

It must also have a representative structure, appropriate mechanisms of accountability and democratic and transparent decision-making processes.

The basic resources of the organisation must be derived, in the main part, from contributions of the national affiliates or other components or from individual members.

"With the status, the body now has the opportunity to take advantage of the economic development programmes of several UN agencies that partner with NGOs under the ECOSOC arrangement,' WIC said in the statement.

It added that WIC would utilise the resources of the UN organs that deal with social issues, which would help the group deal with Igbo social and economic issues.

The statement said the Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) had in February recommended the admission of WIC.

It stated Dr. Anthony Ejiofor, the Executive Director of WIC, received calls on the admission of WIC from both Geneva and New York.
,br />According to it, leaders of the Committee on NGO indicated in the calls that they had been monitoring WIC activities.

It added that the callers to Ejiofor assured WIC that they would help the organisation make the most use of its new status.

The statement also quoted the Chairman of WIC, Mazi Joe Eto, as describing the admission as "definitely a rare feat".
This report was first published at the Vanguard, July 25, 2012

Film Shows Epic Journey Of Nigeria's Jews


An epic cinematic journey that reveals a link between ancient Jewish culture and the people of modern Nigeria will have its Long Island premier next month in Plainview.

The Manetto Hill Jewish Center will host the screening of “Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria” on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 at 7 p.m.

The entire community is invited.
Jeff Lieberman's film, which has showings this weekend in North Carolina and Australia, will be in attendance at the Plainview event to discuss his work.

From a historical perspective, the documentary's revelations are stunning:

The film follows the journey of Shmuel, a young Nigerian Jew, who uncovers his Judaic roots as a member of the Igbo clans in Nigeria. Using the Internet, the young man realizes the similarities between his culture and Jewish traditions. His story reveals an ancient link of Nigeria's Igbo who are now re-connecting with their Jewish roots.

Experts trace the Igbo people from Biblical times through the Biafran War of the 1960s, when more than a million Igbo were killed.

The film's saga transcends geographic boundaries: Countless African-Americans of Nigerian descent may be connected to the Igbo people and share their Jewish heritage, the film asserts. Igbo people were enslaved by the thousands by Western traders and transplanted in the New World.

"The film is a riveting documentary film which has received international acclaim," said Marilyn Morris, a member of the MHJC's membership committee. "The filmmaker has expertly captured the stories, history and real life pictures of the lives and culture of the Igbo people."

A short film trailer can be seen on the film's website:

The entire community, regardless of religious affiliation, is invited to attend the Sept. 9 screening, synagogue leaders said.

NIGERIA: 2015 Presidency: 'I Weep For The Southeast People'


PROF. A.B.C Nwosu, former Minister of Health and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), speaks on the state of insecurity in the country, Igbo Presidency in 2015, corruption and other issues.

The Igbo are clamouring for the Presidency in 2015, do you think it would be possible?

People get the leadership that they deserve, but the Bible also says that where there is no vision, the people perish, I weep for the Southeast and beyond, I won’t say more. There are people who promised the Ohanaeze leadership that power will go to Southeast in unbroken succession in 2015 from the Southsouth, that was their solemn word and that was what the Ohanaeze leadership told Ndigbo last year. So, we must hold them to their words if not, and the people should disgrace them thoroughly, because if we don’t disgrace them, another set will come up again. When a leadership says this is what they will deliver and they don’t deliver it, the followership should sanction them.

What were the factors that hindered previous moves by the Southeast to clinch power in the country?

The Igbo got the first Presidency of Nigeria, but it was a ceremonial president during the time of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. It has not always been like this with the Igbo. After independence, it was Azikiwe until 1966. The situation changed when we had the executive president in 1979, after the civil war had intervened. There is a school of thought that believes that the Igbo, having fought the civil war, should never be allowed to be President again until centuries have passed. There is also another school of thought that says ‘no, the Igbo have paid their dues and are entitled to the exercise of their full citizenship rights, including the Presidency’. The Igbo believed they must produce the President and in 1979, they came near it with Chief Alex Ekwueme as Vice President. Perhaps, if the military hadn’t intervened in 1983, Ekwueme might have become the President at the end of Shagari’s second term, but the military intervened and later there was June 12 presidential election, which was won by the late Chief MKO Abiola. Because of that, in 1999, it had to be exclusively Southwest issue.

Now, the Igbo are saying that they also need to become part of the equation and they reached an agreement with the Southwest, South-south in 2007 that the we didn’t mind if a Southsouth was, that was why some of us gave Dr. Peter Odili our best support in his presidential quest in 2007. Now that the Southsouth has produced the President, the only people who have not produced president is Southeast and we are saying we should produce. We are not anti-anybody, we are just pro-Igbo.

I respect the Yoruba the way they canvassed, pushed and held on to June 12. They are a people, they didn’t have to agree, but they made June 12 an issue and Nigeria recognised that June 12 was an issue. They presented a credible threat and were recognized.

I salute people like Chief Edwin Clark, though I will not go with him, but I salute him for his spirited defence of his people. He is a soldier of his people and a defender of Ijaw rights and I respect his tenacity. Because of that and the resource control issue, they also presented a credible threat and have become a force in Nigeria and Nigeria has recognised them.

But my heart bleeds when it comes to the Igbo, and then I weep again for the late Ikemba Odimegwu Ojukwu. And I ask, when will some leaders emerge from Igbo and say, ‘this is us, we mean no harm, but we are citizens of Nigeria and are entitled to full citizenship as a right’.

Not for people to be looking for where they are sharing porridge and running into the place, collect plates of porridge and vanish. It has always been an issue and each Igbo man must choose what he wants.

What is your view on the proposals submitted by Ohanaeze leadership on the amendment of the country’s constitution?

I needed a tranquilizer when I saw the president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo presenting a proposal to the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.

I have four issues with that; if you are presenting a proposal on my behalf, at least, I ought to know what it is, it was in the pages of the newspapers that I heard that it was a six-year single term and I know it flies in the face of what Ndigbo has been asking for. My first quarrel was: why don’t they let our people see what they are submitting their behalf? How did they arrive at the decision? They can’t just wake up and begin to act as if nothing else occurred before now? I saw the one submitted by Delta State which was published in the newspaper. It was specific that Federal powers must be devolved to the states and it quoted specific sections of the constitution that they want to be amended.

I am not saying that they shouldn’t do it, but it will be easier if they carry everybody along and publish the proposal on the pages of the newspaper. Nothing will be lost because this thing is not a secret document. The Igbo people are not seeking something that is anti-Nigeria.

Many believe that corruption has worsened in the country since 1999 and the government is not doing enough to curb, do you agree?

I was shocked on May 29, 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed me as Political Adviser and brought me into his government without knowing me.

We had never met as at that time, he had never seen me and I remembered that we went into the small room in the Villa after we congratulated him. I told him that I am Prof A.B.C Nwosu, he held me and took me into the small room and said, he wanted me to work with him and he had two bills with him that day he was sworn in. The Bill on Niger Delta Development (NDDC Bill). I will always say the truth, if anybody says it is an afterthought from Obasanjo, it is not true. He came to the Presidency determined to set up the NDDC to redress the injustice meted to the Niger Delta. How he ended up, he will be in the best position to tell us, but I know he showed me the Bill.

The second bill he showed me was the Anti-Corruption Bill, and he wanted me to do a research on how countries of the world had dealt with corruption and set up their anti-corruption agencies and the kind of powers they have.

The most charitable thing I can say is that corruption is still with us, and it illustrated what the Igbo man wrote on his motor that ‘to be a man is not a day’s job’. To fight corruption in Nigeria is not a day job, because corruption will fight back. So we have to fight it, if we don’t fight it, it will undo us as a nation. It diminishes our sovereignty and ability to fulfill our destiny in the world, so we must fight it.

Let’s forget yesterday, let’s start from today. This current Senate has identified wrongdoings in the privatization; we can fight it by doing something about that. We can look at the report, it is a report from our Senate, we can deal with it, we can deal with the corruption witnessed in the pension probe, it is mind-boggling. That brings us to the subsidy scam. What can stop corruption is that anybody who is caught in corruption is arraigned and jailed in accordance with the law. That is why you see people looking for General Muhammed Buhari; he sentenced people to unbelievable jail terms which they served some. If you catch a person, you send him to jail and make him forfeit some of those property and people see it.

What is your reaction to the state of insecurity across the country today with the killings in Jos and Boko Haram?

Everybody is worried, including the security agencies. My problem is that worrying about this cannot give us security. It is doing something about it that will give us security and I want to suggest that we can do something about it by engaging traditional rulers. Not just in places where we have security problems, but also all over the country.

I am convinced that we all have a firm resolve that the security problem cannot go on anymore, because I don’t think there is anybody who is benefitting from it. The problem is diminishing Nigeria’s sovereignty.

For somebody who witnessed the civil war, it is frightening. The thing has gotten out of hand and out of control and the only way to control it is to engage the traditional rulers and the various stakeholders. It is not of religion, and it is a matter of sovereignty, nationhood and citizenship.

We need to be firm about how the coercive agencies of the state are handling this matter. Murder and arson are criminal offences of the worst order. We have a proverb that says, “ If a small child craws and bites an old man without respecting the grey hair, the old man should craw back and bite the child on the buttock without respecting whatever he sees there.”

So if these people kill and maim people, the coercive agencies should use maximum force to establish the sovereignty of Nigeria. This insecurity issue has gone so far that it has to be dealt with decisively now.

Is the high rate of unemployment in the country a contributory factor to the problem?

Unemployment is a major factor because an idle mind is the devils workshop. The level of unemployment is intolerable and nobody is happy with it, but there are people who are paid by government to think out programmes that will keep people employed in a sustainable manner.

We cannot import tricycles popularly Keke NAPEP from India and tell a graduate of Chemistry to be driving and say it’s employment. What we are facing in the world is not new, America and Britain have gone through depression and a major way of creating employment in a sustainable manner is through massive investment in public works.

If government decides now to build one million housing units in Nigeria today, do you know the number of people who will be employed? Not Keke NAPEP for God’s sake. Or this thing they are doing, call young boys and give them lectures, after the lectures, they give them N5 million and ask them to go and be entrepreneurs and employers of labour. That again to me is again laughable. We should have a way of encouraging small and medium scale industries in a measurable way.

The Nigerian market is huge, we don’t have to export, we have over 160 million people. If we make enough quality goods and people buy into it, it is enough to create employment. The one that my heart bleeds as I drive to Enugu is the Ajaokuta steel. There are so many buildings that have passed lintel level, they have been wasting away for over 20 years. Ajaokuta is not only a steel factory, it is steel city. That is why you have hospitals, residential quarters and others there.

Ajaokuta Steel can conveniently absorb thousands of unemployed youths. Why should we leave the fate of people like that to some nonsensical privatization which every probe has found wanting.

I was one of the authors of the PDP manifesto, we believed in private sector-led economy, but we did not say that we would auction off the entire economy to whatever private sector. We have no national carrier, how many countries do you know that don’t have national carriers? Because of private sector, they go and bring 30-year-old aircrafts into Nigeria airspace. That is a shame.
This is 13 years of Democracy in Nigeria, do you think we have done well?
I laugh whenever I hear that US spent 200 years before they got to where they are today. The issue is that people learn from people’s experiences, so that you don’t have to go through the same thing. We have more than enough time. What are we learning that nobody should rule another person without the persons’ consent? When you rig the election, you are ruling without the consent of the people, is that what you need 500 years to learn? Do we need 500 years to draw up people’s constitution?