So our packaged tour to Osogbo under the auspices of Nike Davies Okundaye, Nigeria’s most famous fabric artist, had to include a visit to one of her art centers to learn more about the resist dye techniques of making Nigerian batik. I was particularly interested in adire, and was getting confused after buying so many batik fabrics only to be told that it was batik, not adire.
My colleague, who is Yoruba and hails from Abeokuta, said “adire” simply means “tie and dye,” in his language. Traditionally the fabric is indigo colored and worn as wrapper by Yoruba women. These days it is sometimes called kampala, and they come in many colors. Nike is credited for revitalizing interest in what seemed to be a dying industry, especially when she established art centers in various parts of Nigeria, offering workshops and free lessons to train young men and women in becoming artists.
We learned that they use the term adire eleko to refer to the Yoruba technique of using cassava starch instead of wax (batik technique). They also use natural vegetable dye and produce indigo from cocoa pods. They have a tree right in their backyard and they demonstrated by grabbing some leaves and crushing these.
The difference does not end here. They also use chicken feathers to create intricate Yoruba patterns, while the batik technique involved the use of foam dipped in melted wax. Nike’s adire fabrics are not cheap, but neither are the batik fabrics sold in her art galleries.
Adire Eleko Technique with Cassava Starch and Chicken Feathers
Batik Technique with Melted Wax and Foam
Whether you purchase adire or batik, the designs are complicated when compared to the common variety of batik tablecloth sold to tourists and expats. Her fabrics are also meant to be worn, so the material is different. Otherwise, it is really hard to tell the difference …
Nike’s batik fabrics with modern and traditional patterns
Batik fabrics by other artists
Majority of batik artists are based in Ibadan, but Abeokuta and Osogbo are also major batik centers.