When we think about indigo dye many might acknowledge the Japanese technique know as shibori. There is no doubt that Japan has a rich history of indigo dying, though West Africa too, for many centuries has been using indigo dye for its decorative textiles.
Image: Local Kano dyer beginning the process of dying - by Naja Sky
There are many different techniques of indigo dying in West Africa and their designs and symbols vary from place to place, however it appears that it all began in the ancient trading city of Kano in North West Nigeria, one of the biggest cities in Africa. Kano is home to Kofar Mata, the oldest dye pits in Africa said to date back 500 years, which are still being used today for indigo cloth dying to later trade in the market. The material is dipped repeatedly into the natural dye, derived from a plant family called Indigofera Tinctoria, to create a variety of vibrant deep blue shades. Kano City also became one of Nigeria’s earliest export points, placing Nigeria on the global trading map for textiles and other valuable goods.
Image: A craftsman lays indigo-dyed cloth to dry over some of the ancient dye pits of Kofar Mata - by AP Images
Unfortunately today indigo cloth in Kofar Mata has lost much of its business due to changing trends and locals preferring modern designs and fabrics. It also suffered because the government in Nigeria allowed the importation of cheap textiles from Asia, saturating the local market and putting the dyers out of business. Now more than 100 pits sit untouched and in decay filled with waste and stones. Dyers no longer have a trade which once flourished and the trade is slowly dying out. Additionally the growth of islamist groups such as Boko Harem have also pushed international buyers and tourists away.
Image: Taureg man wearing indigo dyed turban - known as the 'blue men of the dessert' - Alache
However it has been said that due to better communication channels there is still interest from international buyers who are able to place orders without going to the market. Longstanding buyers are also helping to prop up the trade, they still have clients returning whose families have been buying the cloth for centuries, particularly the Taarag people, known as the 'blue men of the desert'. Tuareg people, inhabitants of the Sahara, for years have travelled miles over the Sahara's dunes to buy the renowned indigo fabric. On formal occasions the Tuareg people will wear an indigo turban of up to 8 metres, wearing it with indigo dyed robes.
Image: Yoruba women dressed in adire indigo cloth - by Arcadia Films
Other parts of Nigeria also used indigo dye for decorative uses. One particular technique is known as adire. Adire is indigo resist dyed cloth (resist dyeing involves creating a pattern by treating certain parts of the fabric in some way to prevent them absorbing dye) that is made by the Yoruba women in south western Nigeria. Ebuku Threads takes its inspiration from Yoruba adire techniques. In our next post we will be exploring adire and its many techniques and how it has evolved to its modern day.
Banner image: Men at indigo dye pits in Kano - by Learninglab