Nigerian weddings are not your typical weddings. I mean, it’s Nigeria after all, and we are known to be extra in all our doings. A Nigerian wedding is an all-out affair and could be simply referred to as a colorful parade. It is more than uniting two individuals. It is the coming together of two whole families to become one.
In Nigeria, there are over 300 tribes, each with their own variations on the prominent wedding traditions, but the most well-known tribes are Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo. However, in this article, our focus will be more on the Yoruba wedding.
An interesting myth about the Yoruba tribe is that men in particular are not allowed to be married until their older brothers are. While in Igbo families, all marriages follow in order of seniority. Younger siblings have to postpone their weddings with the one they love until their older siblings have married, or choose to proceed without the blessing of their family.
This archaic tradition has caused so many people to lose their spouses, and it will break your heart to discover that it is still being practiced.
Meanwhile, there are a number of things that have to go into consideration when planning a wedding. The Aso-ebi being one of them, which is a way to promote uniformity. The couple will decide which colors and fabrics they would like their guests to wear on their wedding day and the respective families will go all out to create outfits that meet the requirements.
Aso-ebi makes it hassle-free to distinguish who belongs to each of the couple’s families at a glance, and long-time friends who are not at the bridal party often choose to join in with the aso-ebi.
A whole lot more will be discussed as we proceed in this article.
Origin Of Aso-ebi
Aso Ebi is a Yoruba word and it is a term used to describe the uniform worn by a specific family or set of individuals during events or festive seasons. Pronounced as ASHO EYBEE. Nigerian outfits made from matching fabric to be worn by a group of people to a party, wedding, or naming ceremonies.
Although Aso Ebi translated to English means family cloth. Aso-ebi is a phenomenon seen at Nigerian events in which groups of people wear similar cloth to indicate their close relationship. These days, with so many gorgeous fabrics available, in colors that span the spectrum, it’s easier than ever to pick winning aso-ebi combinations for your occasion.
It is an old culture that originated from the South Western part of Nigeria, the Yoruba tribe precisely, where traditional woven fabrics known as ‘Aso Oke’ were worn as uniforms by certain groups or families.
African textiles draw their inspiration from the rich African cultural heritage which came to America along with the slave trade. Ancient African clothing was made from tree bark and animal hides or furs. Genuine African textiles are strictly traditional, following typical African motifs and earthy colors.
The Yoruba People, for a long time, have been urban people and they live in large towns in Nigeria. Each town has a market and supports craft associations including the weavers.
For instance, the Oje market near the Yoruba city of Ibadan is famous for its Aso-ebi clothes and it attracts cloth traders from all over West Africa. Most scholars of Yoruba hand-woven textiles have often concluded that the women wove merely for domestic purposes while their male counterparts wove as professionals.
Consequently, the cloth produced by women went far beyond satisfying domestic needs. They still dictate and influence fashion trends and at the same time ensure that the traditional hand-woven cloth is always a part of Yoruba fashion.
The Yoruba women have for a long time been very active in promoting the use and sale of the handwoven textile forms they produce. Thus This in itself has its foundation in the popularised use of Aso-ebi.
Asoebi then was referred to as ‘Ankoo’ and ‘Aso egbejoda’, and is worn as an indication of solidarity, cooperation, and acceptance among these groups. As demands for Aso Oke became more than could be met, fabrics like imported lace and Ankara came in handy to help meet Asoebi demands which soon became widely accepted, and not too long after that, the concept of Asoebi crossed beyond the yoruba culture spreading to other parts of Nigeria, some other West African countries like Ghana, Republic of Benin and even the world at large.
However, Asoebi fabrics are now designed into beautiful outfits worn to grace an event and in recent times, have been known to dictate class as well as the kind of treatment, gifts or souvenirs you take home at a party. The outfits are beautiful, colourful and worn most times with head gears also called Gele. The fabric and/or colour of choice are often picked by the celebrant or the bride as the case may be.
How Eko Idumota Market Became Popular For Aso-ebi
Idumota Market is a market located on Lagos Island, a suburb and local government area of Lagos State. It is one of the oldest and arguably one of the largest markets in West Africa with thousands of lock-up shops occupying various buildings in the market.
The market is a major distribution hub for Fabrics, majorly for Aso Ebi purposes, and one of the biggest in Nigeria. According to Badaru-Atoyebi Modupe, the editor of website The Aso Ebi Junkie, “Seventy per cent of Nigerians prefer to visit Aso Ebi tailors to make made-to-fit outfits for them, than pay some ridiculous amount to foreign brands.”
Ayodele Olukoju, a Nigerian economic historian also believes that Aso ebi became a novelty in 1920 during a period of post-World War I economic boom triggered by the higher prices for produce products such as Oil palm. However, William Bascom traced the origin to an earlier period when members of Yoruba age-grades wear uniform dressing to mark fraternal bonds.
In the 1950s, members of women organizations or edges turn out to ceremonies and anniversaries of relatives in the same style of dress, sandals, lappa, smock, necklace, the culture signifies close friendship.
The uniform dressing can also be a measure of personal affluence because Aso ebi involves rivalry between various ages or groups with each group competing to outshine each other in terms of quality, originality, and richness of the uniform.
Over the years, since Aso Ebi became an avenue for Nigerians, especially the Yorubas, to fund their ceremonies, the Eko Idumota has accounted for a huge chunk of fabric sales in Nigeria. It is now commonplace to see the mother of brides or the bride herself in conjunction with her friends to plan their Aso Ebi business separately from the wedding.
This is because of how lucrative it is and how it affords families the chance to bond with each other on a more subliminal level. Recently, Aso Ebi has become a city phenomenon that has spread to numerous West African cultures.
Dealers of imported and local textile materials who you’ll find majorly at Eko Idumota and other major Nigerian markets have benefited immensely from the boom in demand for Aso Ebi fabrics. Some textile dealers offer consultation services and bulk rates for the choice and cost of fabrics.
The aso ebi practice is still sometimes used as an identification with affluence, some wear expensive embroidery and extra layers of cloth, whereas others, who could not afford a whole outfit, added only matching tops and head coverings.
Additionally, aso ebi has become an attire of class worn by celebrities and elites in recent times, especially the Nigerian Nollywood stars. This means that your typical Idumota fabric trader might be making way more than you assume, especially given the fact that fashion designers now creatively tailor outfits for special occasions to meet the taste of their rich and wealthy customers.
Some say a wedding ceremony is not complete without aso-ebi, it is also said that with aso ebi, you will differentiate different calibers of people and families, because each family gets to pick the color and material for the day, especially a typical Yoruba isale eko wedding. The Isale eko people are known as typical spenders that can spend and call any high amount for aso-ebi because they have the money, so they feel their pairs can also afford it as well.
The idea of picking aso-ebi at a wedding is for uniformity and also to make the wedding colors, but recently, things have become different as It is now used as a way of part-funding a wedding. Nowadays, aso-ebi is to differentiate the elite from average people with their expensive glittering lace worth 500 thousand and the average with another type of lace worth 200 thousand, while the people that can not afford this will just stick to Ankara.
The tradition of aso-ebi seems to have lost its main and original purpose. Instead of it being a culture of solidarity, the culture has transformed as a medium of social strive, display of affluence, and discrimination against people, who are either unwilling or unable to buy aso-ebi material.
There are so many reasons why most people run from buying aso-ebi, some feel the price is ridiculously expensive, while some feel they can not buy it because they already have that same color of the material. The effect of this is that many people have many clothes that they do not need in their wardrobes yet there are many social needs in the country that could have been solved with the money spent on clothes that are not needed.
No doubt aso-ebi can add some colour to events as some respondents have identified, it is important that celebrants pay attention to the concerns many people are raising
about the growing culture.
Nowadays, in some weddings, aso-ebi is the invitation to access the wedding and without wearing it you cannot be at the wedding or even have access to the food being served at the occasion. It is unethical to discriminate against any person in ceremonies for the singular reason of not wearing aso-ebi.
Discrimination often causes psychological harm to people discriminated against, and no one wants to experience it. Hence, people are willing to go out of their way to buy the aso-ebi even when they do not need them. While there are some people whose household taboo is to wear anco (aso-ebi) with people.
It is well understood in some Yoruba parties that without putting on the aso-ebi, you would not be given gifts or souvenirs at the ceremony.
Aso-ebi is one of the African attire that has come a long way, as it is among the oldest and most valuable type of Africa attire, meaning “uniformed solidarity dress.” It is also designed to suit various occasions, not just in Africa but also around the world.
Although Weddings are the major events to use Aso-ebi, they can also be used in any function, either general or official. It is actually very exciting to have friends and relatives dressed in uniformed fabrics! it portrays unity, support and oneness.
However, In Nigeria, there is no other item, that constitutes as much importance as the subject of Aso-ebi, it its social setting.
While some people believe that the most important reason for these Aso-ebi fabrics, it is believed that it is the only way people use to portray their support and solidarity.
Purchasing a selected Aso-ebi fabric and attending the occasion in the Aso-ebi attire is the only way through which they can assure a celebrant unflinching support. It gives a sense of belonging during the occasion where it is used. It is also worn to welcome dignitaries, government officials. It can also help people to have the latest fabrics and update their wardrobes.
Aso-ebi seems like it’s never-ending at this point, as long as there will be more weddings in this part of the world. But although there will still be more people who try to use the selling of Aso-ebi as a fundraising campaign, as a well-wisher or supporter, it is important to not go beyond your means. But support with the best you can do.
Aso-ebi will continually be part of an excellent beautification of an event, be it a wedding, naming ceremony, etc.