AS624 – Aso oke strip weave woman’s shawl, ipele, Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, circa 1900.
Rare nineteenth century shawl woven from extremely fine white hand spun cotton with supplementary weft floats in pale brown wild silk sanyan framing blocks of openwork. The pattern blocks at each end of the shawl alternate silk weft stripes with wider stripes created using the supplementary weft float technique, together with a triangular pattern across each strip that uses a tapestry weave, reversing the silk weft and completing the line in white cotton. Tapestry weave is not usually found in the repertoire of Yoruba aso oke weavers and its use seems to have been confined to shawls of this type. This is the only example I know of that has patterns in local wild silk, other examples use magenta silk from the trans Saharan trade or are in plain white cotton. In excellent condition, retaining its original hand sewn seams and hems throughout.
Measurement: 79 inches x 50 inches.
Other early shawls of related types that we have collected are now in the collections of the British Museum, Musee du Quai Branly, Paris and the Worldmuseum, Vienna. For another related shawl in the late C19th Beving collection in the British Museum see Af1934,0307.127. A shawl in the MFA Boston (here) is described as a “wedding shawl” and named as “popofi” -however ofi in Yoruba just means loom and popofi is a word once used for any time of cloth woven on a local loom as opposed to imported fabric rather than a specific name for this cloth. Whilst it is entirely possible that these shawls were worn at weddings there is no ethnographic evidence that this was the case and it is safer to note that they were high status shawls , based on the superb quality of the weaving and the expensive silk fibers used rather than to posit a more specific use. We can however provide visual evidence of a secondary use as part of masquerade costumes.
Eyo or Adamorisha, is the signature masquerade performance of Lagos island, still enacted as an annual festival event. Today the performers wear imported white lace robes and veils but images from the early colonial era show a combination of agbada gowns in various colours with locally woven openwork aso oke cloths similar to that above. We can imagine the performers borrowing women’s shawls from wives or mothers for this purpose, and that their participation in the spiritually charged performance added an additional layer of meaning to the textiles.
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