C19th Wild Silk ‘Lace’ aso oke shawl

AS644 – Aso oke strip weave wild silk woman’s shawl, ipele, Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, circa 1900.

Rare nineteenth century shawl woven from wild silk sanyan and  extremely fine white hand spun cotton with subtle textural effects in the apparently plain areas framing the central block of openwork.

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Description

Aso oke strip weave wild silk woman’s shawl, ipele, Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, circa 1900.

Rare nineteenth century shawl woven from wild silk sanyan and  extremely fine white hand spun cotton with subtle textural effects in the apparently plain areas framing the central block of openwork. Rows of thicker hand spun cotton wefts, and partial rows that are carefully arranged to form triangular patterns, along with rows of much smaller openwork, create subtle and beautiful patterns on the border. Oddly some fibres of magenta silk alaari have been spun into threads of the cotton warp in places creating wisps and flecks of colour in the otherwise white and pale beige cloth. In excellent condition, retaining its original hand sewn seams and hems throughout.

Measurement: 67 inches x 43 inches, 170 cm x 110 cm.

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.

All items on this site are vintage. That means that they may have a few small marks or blemishes consistent with use. We will try to highlight any significant issues in the description above but in the event you are not happy with your purchase please notify us within 48 hours of receipt and you may return it for a full refund (excluding return shipping costs.)