Each workshop that the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild sponsors comes with a task list for participants: set-up, morning snack, afternoon snack (snacks=important), take down, etc. One particular job is often tough to fill – writing an article about the experience for the guild newsletter. This past April found many dye gardeners, and a few of the as-yet unconverted, enjoying a workshop with master dyer Gasali Adeyemo. We had great snacks. We were also exceedingly fortunate that Judy Newland volunteered to write about her experiences for the Shuttle Scuttle. Thanks to Judy and to Lisa Chumley, newsletter editor, for permission to reprint Judy’s words and pictures here.
The Man Who Could Be King. You were expecting a story of indigo, paste resist, and fabulous fabric produced in a workshop, right? And this is that story… but wrapped in a cultural cloth to be explored layer by layer. The magical mystery tour of Nigerian indigo dyed adire cloth, with Gasali Adeyemo as our guide, weaves over and under, tugging us deep into a life in indigo with a broom straw, a knife, and a feather.
A Deep History. Gasali began his indigo journey as a young man, mentored by his mother, who is now an 83-year-old midwife. Learning the techniques of adire and indigo dyeing has shaped who he is and his path through life. His father, a farmer, told him that he must do what he loved, stick with it, but it would not be easy. There are three tribes in Nigeria: the Yoruba; Ibo; and Hausa. Gasali belongs to the Yoruba people of southwest Nigeria; he visits Nigeria at least once a year to visit his family and check on the village. Gasali has provided funds to dig a well for the community and hopes to find a way to create a small clinic needed particularly by the elders of the village.
Steeped in Nigerian Culture. Indigo grows everywhere in Nigeria. It is called elu in Yoruba culture and the scientific name is Lonchocarpus cyanescens. Nigerian indigo fabric is very dark because of the plant. It is used fresh when in season, but also made into indigo balls, which are rolled in wood ash and dried. Indigo is considered both powerful and spiritual and is just as important as a medicine as it is a dye. It is added to red beans, rubbed into the floor and cures much sickness. Traditional medical practitioners use the indigo after it’s been in the dye pot. It is sometimes burned in a house to clean the air and remove bad spirits. For 2000 years, indigo has been a part of Nigerian culture. The Nigerian indigo goddess Iyamopo Atiba is described as “undescribable” and was the first woman to identify indigo. She is celebrated during the Osun Festival the last weekend of August. Working with indigo brings out songs and stories surrounding Iyamopo Atiba.
Technique – the straw, the knife and the feather. Patterns identify the social group you belong to in Nigeria and there are multiple ways to achieve these patterns. Most designs are 5-7 generations old. The lovely “pigeon eye” pattern is a sign of love. Pigeons are pets in Nigeria and this design honors them and all who keep their eyes on the whole village.
Cassava has always been the most important food for the community. We made cassava paste to use for two adire techniques. Ground cassava powder is mixed with alum, copper, water, and lime and cooked for 45 minutes. This paste is then applied to fabric using stencils, which is called adire onipantani.
Our next technique required painting the paste with a broom straw, knife, or chicken feather to create hand-painted designs called adire eleko. Most of us found these tools a bit challenging, but often the room filled with silence as we worked. The fabric creations dried overnight, then were immersed for a short time in the indigo bath and laid out to dry. The pieces were soaked again so that the cassava paste could be removed by scraping, which can happen even in rain and snowy weather!
Tie-dye techniques are called adire oniko and this work is considered a healing technique. We wrapped up our last day by creating folded and wrapped tie-dye pieces and once more dipped them into indigo. All pieces were dried and packed up to travel home. A group dinner on Tuesday evening provided a wonderful experience of companionable story telling.
Sharing our stories. Sharing the textile stories of our lives is why most of us do what we do. Gasali’s story stretches across continents and cultures and now surrounds us in Colorado – we are now part of the story. So where do we go from here? We can heed Gasali’s motto and “share the knowledge.” And what about the man who could be king? In Gasali’s village, Ofaiedo (meaning “little village”), three families rotate the responsibility of caring for the community through kingship. If Gasali returned to Nigeria, he could someday serve in this role. And so our friend may one day lead his village into a brave new future, sharing his message of love and the spirit of indigo with the world.
You can find out more about Judy Newland at Cloth Conspiracy.
Additional photos by Cathy Jacobus.