As part of its inward looking drive, the Oyo State Government through its Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, last year, on the occasion of the World Tourism Day, introduced the Aso-Ofi festival in a bid to revive local fabric. The celebration of Aso-Ofi has no doubt greatly drawn attention to the fabric and Iseyin town. Omolola Itayemi reports
I seyin, Oyo State is about an hour’s drive north of Ibadan. As one enters the town, one is greeted with the battery of glowing lanterns coming from the different market stalls at Oja-Oba. Different types of robo, koko and eko are copiously displayed with the different traders announcing to every passing patron the existence of their wares. One can’t stay out too late for this night, an Oro ritual is taking place. All uninitiated must observe the curfew which starts at 10pm.
As one makes to settle in for the night, one can’t help but notice the overwhelming presence of sleeping goats – sleeping pregnant goats – at every turn. It is hard to say which is more overwhelming, the smell of livestock or the musky sweet smell of tobacco leaves wafting through from the different expanses of Iseyin town. As I drift off I can’t help but remember with a smile across my lips, the scent of Krizia Moods.
The morning greets me with cries from the hawkers selling ogi (peeled mashed corn). Iseyin comes alive with green and white taxis struggling with okada (motorcycle taxis) on the busy Iseyin roads. On a normal day, visitors troop into town from Lagos and nearby towns Ibadan, Ogbomosho, and Oyo to purchase original fabrics of aso-ofi.
Iseyin, a very expansive town is surrounded by four hills including Ebeji, the largest of them all. In years of yore, it served as refuge for the residents who were running away from the ravage of war. The other hills are Olufi, Atamafon and Eyijue.
Oyo state itself has become famous for turning local food and craft into viable industries which attracts both local and foreign investors. It has again recorded another milestone in the textile industry. Aso-ofi as it is indigenously called or Aso-oke as it is generally called is the local woven textile for which the Iseyin part of the state is famous for producing. The history of this textile craft dates back to as old as the Oyo Empire and it has since been a major pre-occupation of the Iseyin people.
It is produced from raw cotton with the combination of herbs to form colours. Its production methods are purely crude as no mechanized means are employed. It passes through the process of cotton planting till the cotton is mature and in bright white colour. The cotton fibre is separated from the seed and the fibre is spun into thread with the use of corn cobs. It later passes through for dyeing with products from plant leaves, bark or root and is rolled into different sizes before it is starched to ensure durability. It is thereafter spread out to the weaver’s desired length and is woven in the local loom to produce the finished fabric.
The designs on the fabric are said to be both a mix of creative art and a representation of hierarchy and job description, as there are designs for farmers, for common people and for royals. This textile craft which has registered its presence in the closet of young and old Yoruba people and people from other climes has attracted much fame and has become a major tourist attraction.
The government and people of Oyo state under the administration of Governor Abiola Ajimobi has set aside a time in September to annually celebrate the Aso-ofi festival. The festival which was launched on the 27th of September, 2016 (world tourism day) is handled by the Oyo State Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism in collaboration with the Iseyin Weavers and Marketers Association of Oyo state. This year’s edition was a combination of the festival celebration and the foundation laying ceremony of Aso-ofi International Tourism Market in Iseyin.
The event had an exhibition of varieties of fashion items that were made from the fabric. Items like ready to wear jackets, caps, foot wears, knapsacks, hand bags, head gears and materials were on the showcase. The second edition witnessed sons, daughters, and friends of Iseyin land come out in their number to display their Aso-ofi repertoire in solidarity with the craftsmen.
On a courtesy visit to the Aseyin of Iseyin land, the deputy governor of the state, Otunba Moses Adeyemo who represented the governor thanked the Aseyin for the provision of the land for the proposed international market and his overall support for the investment. He hopes that with the Aseyin’s assistance and collaboration, continuity would be established. The Iseyin monarch Oba Abdul Ganiyu Ologunebi commended the state governor for the bold steps he had taken to ensure the growth of the state and its people.
The Oyo State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Toye Arulogun said part of the aim of the international market was to structure the unstructured Aso-Ofi market and sell the benefits of the craft to the global market because tourism rests on identifying tourist potentials, packaging them for attractiveness, promoting them and partnering with interested organisations.
Arulogun believes that tourism can grow and beat oil which is the major economic back bone of Nigeria at present and expressed hopes for the new market to thrive as the craft bears a strong economic content which obviously has to be tapped into. As a way of boosting the industry, the commissioner revealed that local cotton producers have been encouraged to grow their produce in large quantity and a make-shift tent had been provided for the weavers, away from the tree sheds they have been using. He further explained that the efforts being made to register the Aso-ofi craft in the international space would not compromise the quality of the hand-made fabric, even though there would be some technological innovation to boost productivity, “the hand woven material will remain and will cost more.”
Highlights of the occasion included performances by the state cultural troupe and award presentation to deserving merchants and customers. The 500 shop market plan is set to have a police station to ensure peace and security, a clinic for emergency and out-patient health care, a food court, an electronics session, a museum to record artifacts, a filling station, a fire station and the parent session for Aso-ofi fabric. The first set of 50 shops is expected to be ready within the next 6-8 months.