Akwete cloth is a hand-woven textile produced in Igboland and named for the town of Akwete in Abia state, Southeastern Nigeria. Made using palm, cotton and hemp, the Akwete-weaving process attracts tourists who travel to the area to see how it’s made and to buy the colorful cloth. Akwete cloth is a major part of the region’s economy. Here are 12 things you didn’t know about Akwete cloth.
Akwete cloths are worn in pairs in what’s known as an “up-and-down” fashion — one cloth is wrapped around the waist and another under the arms. However, Akwete women sometimes use just one very wide cloth so that only one cloth is used to form a dress.
Akwete cloths are traditionally used in masquerades or other major events such as marriages, chieftaincy ceremonies and burials. The particularly course material holds onto elaborate decorations and dyes well. However, softer, more comfortable cloths made mostly of cotton are worn casually.
There are two types of loom — horizontal for men and vertical for women, but traditionally, women handled the Akwete cloth-making. Starting way back, the men of Igboland fished and the women made the cloths from local materials. For the most part, that’s still the the way it’s done today. Eventually the creative designs and vibrant colors made Akwete one of the most famous textiles in Nigeria. Women who make Akwete cloth usually start doing so at a very young age.
Source: Rovinginsight.org , wiki
Akwete cloth became popular when the nearby region of Abia State became popular for palm oil and kernel trade. The people of Igboland began trading Akwete cloth for all sorts of products with people of other cultures, and the cloth’s fame spread.
The four main patterns in Akwete cloth include:
– Etirieti, which is rather plain and made up of mostly stripes and squares.
– Akpukpa, which is very vibrant and the pattern purchased most often by outside cultures.
– Ahia, a rather complex design that is controlled by the number of heddles (a cord or wire that the thread passes through).
– Ogbanaonweya, an intricate pattern used most by the Akwete community itself.
The Akwete community considers cloth weaving to be a gift you’re born with. Young girls begin weaving cloths as soon as their arms are long enough to work the loom and make cloths that range from 15-to-30 inches wide. As their arms grow and strengthen, they weave cloths up to 50 inches wide. Each cloth can take weeks to weave.
Raw materials used to create Akwete cloth include wool, cotton, silk, raffia (a type of palm), hemp and tree bark.
The history of Akwete cloth is shrouded in mystery. A woman named Dada Nwakata is credited as one of the first to weave with cotton in the Akwete cloth-making process. Nwakata may have inspired some childhood fairytales too. She allegedly put a spell on her weaving loom so that nobody could steal her elaborate and stunning designs.
The year 1963 was considered a landmark for Akwete cloth. An exhibition dedicated to Akwete cloth was held at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. It also appeared in the Textile Museum of Canada and the British Museum. Rufus Nna James, an Akwete chief, fought to get international attention for the cloths, which proved lucrative for the community. This international exposure created awareness of the beauty of Akwete products.
Some regions near and far from Akwete also make the cloth, and name it Akwete cloth, but the Akwete community is arguably the best at it.
Akwete cloths began appearing in European museums in the 1880s and 1890s, according to Colleen Kriger in her book, “Cloth In West African History.” Kriger said “The invention of Akwete cloth is conveyed by way of a cliche, or mnemonic stereotype, which takes the guise of a legendary weaver known as Dada Nwakata…it is unlikely Dada Nwakata did it single handedly.” According to another source — Akweteusa — Nwakata allegedly unraveled threads of a cloth brought to her region by the Portuguese between the 14th and 16th centuries. Nwakata studied the weave structures and copied them, adapting them and creating new designs. Only after Nwakata died did her close friend — the only person she allowed in the room while she wove—reveal Nwakata’s weave structures.
Akwete cloth designers adapt to customer demand. Today you’ll see four traditional patterns as well as cloths with domestic animals, tortoises (considered the symbol of cunning and wisdom), ritual objects, the Nigerian coat of arms, the Nigerian flag and even the logo of the All Black Festival of the Arts.