Reconsidering the Owe Woven Cloth of Nigeria from a Gendered Perspective.

AuthorOshewolo, Roseline Morenike


The main aim of this work is to assess the Owe woven cloth from a gendered perspective with reference to its existence since the pre-colonial period. The term Owe refers to the people occupying the present day Kabba district of Kabba/Bunu local government area of Kogi state, Nigeria. Owe also refers to the Yoruba dialect that the people speak (1). Oweland used to be a trade centre during the pre-colonial period for numerous farm produce including cotton (2). No doubt, cotton production and weaving represented critical economic elements in Oweland before changes began to set in. This is because these sectors were more or less the engines of economic development in Oweland. This work therefore examines cloth weaving which was one of the major occupations of the people from the earliest time. It attempts a reconsideration of the Owe woven cloth from a gendered perspective through data generated from eye witness accounts of Owe woven cloth as well as archival materials.

Cloth Weaving in Oweland: Conceptual Issues and Origin

The origin of cloth weaving in Oweland is not certain, but it is believed to be as ancient as the people (3). However, cloth weaving has been discussed in a wider scope by various academics; this has made it to attract numerous definitions from scholars of divergent theoretical persuasions. Most writings view cloth not only from the covering and protection of the body perspective but also from the socio-cultural perspectives. According to Olaoye, cloth weaving emerged as a result of the people's needs to cover their nakedness (4). In another account, he describes cloth as a representation of the magnificent culture of a person, adding that the nature of cloth worn by a person describes the class of the individual (5). Thus, the type of cloth worn by a person speaks for the person. Similarly, Faleye also noted that cloth is used in the protection of the human body, and cloth also helps in describing the past and tradition of a group of people (6). However, Rene posits that cloth is the product of social life (7) while Asakitipi further explained that cloth is worn to reveal social class of a person (8).

In Oweland, just like every other community in the world, cloth was essentially needed, and to satisfy this need, cloth weaving became inevitable, as both men and women needed cloth to cover and protect their body in the pursuance of their daily activities. Both men and women engaged in cloth weaving, but the effort put in by women in Oweland surpassed the role played by their male counterparts. The availability of a favourable climatic condition and fertile land for the growing of cotton greatly enhanced the production of raw cotton in Oweland. The availability of the needed raw materials promoted and sustained cloth weaving in Oweland. (9) As one of the major economic activities of the people, the weaving processes were carried out by both men and women with variations in the looms used. The men used the horizontal loom while the women made use of the vertical loom. Their professional skills as well as aesthetic designs were next to none, and this made the Owe woven cloth very popular and the most sought-after in the area before decline began to set in. There was great demand within and outside the shores of Oweland. (10) The Owe woven cloth expresses the artistic ingenuity of the people.

Before weaving can be possible, the cotton planted must have been harvested and processed. The business of clearing and tilling the soil was done by men while planting and weeding was done by women. Harvesting was done by both men and women while the processing of the harvested produce was done mainly by the women. Because of the people's love for agriculture, the needed cotton for cloth weaving was not an issue, and this was one of the major reasons why cloth weaving thrived even before the coming of the colonialists. The needed raw materials were in excess supply, the reasons being that the people cultivated raw cotton, and it was as a result of the availability of cotton that cloth weaving was taken up by most women. Although the cultivation of cotton before the arrival of the colonialists was locally done, cotton farming was done mainly to meet their immediate needs. Excess produce was sold out to neighboring villages.

The cultivation of cotton for export purposes was encouraged by the colonialists around 1910. It was the activities of the British Cotton Growing Association (BCGA) that triggered the insatiable thirst for cotton in Oweland as well as Nigeria as a whole (11). Oweland became famous for her supply of cotton to the BCGA. Both men and women began to cultivate cotton not only to satisfy their immediate needs as the case was before colonial rule but also for commercial purposes. The entire process was characterized by a division of labour between the two genders. While the clearing of bushes and making of ridges were done by the men, the planting, weeding and harvesting as well as processing of the cotton were done by the women. The business of selling to the BCGA was done mostly by the men. In order to encourage the farmers to cultivate more cotton, the BCGA distributed high yielding cotton seeds to farmers on constant occasions to improve production (12). This made the people to widely embrace the encouragement brought by the colonialist in terms of cotton production. As a result of this acceptance by the people, commercial cotton farming became a major occupation of the people. With increment in the quantity produced, the BCGA established a ginnery in Kabba province which could compress bales into half its original size (13). The people who cultivated cotton for the purpose of supplying the BCGA were also said to have been involved in the supply of cotton to the weaving industries. With the supply of improved varieties of cotton seedlings by the BCGA, the weaving industry was also carried to another level as there was massive supply of cotton for the weaving industries. The weavers took their weaving techniques to an enviable height during the colonial era.

Cloth Weaving Procedures

For weaving to be possible, the harvested cotton had to undergo certain procedures. With the improved production of cotton in Oweland, the people were encouraged to embrace their weaving culture...

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