A Close-up on the Kano Dye Pits in Northern Nigeria
An Ancient Civilisation
Northern Nigeria is known for its rich and diverse cultural heritage that may have preceded current civilisation with archaeological discoveries establishing the existence of prehistoric civilization of the Nok people.
Its kingdoms developed in the context of the trans-Saharan trade and established trade contacts along the existing trade routes at the time. Slaves, kola nuts, leather, cloth, salt, animal hides, gold and henna were exported to neighbouring Timbuktu down to Tripoli.
Welcome to Kofar Mata
Textile production started as early as the 9th century and was well known for the rich variety of designs, colours, materials and production techniques.
Production techniques included weaving followed by tie and dye: the fabrics were formed by the weaving process using raffia, silk and cotton and then dyed in blue indigo.
Dyeing was carried out in Zaria as well as in Kano. Today, only the famous Kofar Mata dyeing pits of Kano has survived and has now become a tourist site.
In the Heart of Kano
Although Heidi Nast claims the Royal Kano Court women had exclusive rights to indigo textile dying, the Kano dye pits in Kofar Mata were established in 1498 close to the City’s central mosque and Ganuwa (historical Kofar Mata gates).
These dye pits became a tourist centre as many were fascinated with the authenticity of the process and the maintenance of a long lasting traditional method of dyeing fabrics.
Ancient and Authentic
The Kano dye pits in Kofar Mata were established in 1498 and have become the emblem of the age-old dyeing tradition in Northern Nigeria.
Unfortunately, as patronage diminished from the dye pits, the tradition started fading away with many pit owners seeking greener pastures and very few were interested in apprenticeship.
Still, the site continues to be a tourist centre as many are fascinated with the authenticity of the process and the maintenance of a long lasting traditional method of dyeing fabrics.
Creating the Dye Solution
About 1550 litres of water is poured into the pit. The water is measured according to the depth of the pit (which is about 6m). Forty buckets of ashes are then added into the water and left for three days to enable the water penetrate the ashes.
Finally, the baba plant (about 200kg) is measured and added into the solution and left for another three days.
Drying and Beating
After the dyer is satisfied with the colour he intends to achieve, he spreads the cloth out to dry and then undergo Bugu - beating the dyed fabric with big log of wood.
This practice is said to be as old as dyeing itself. Bugu is a traditional form of pressing a cloth. It is preferred because it makes the cloth shine while retaining its quality.
A Unique People and Process
Several observers have likened the Hausa blue indigo to the Adire of the Yoruba, the Tagelmust of the Tuareg, or the Japanese Shibori.
But the dyers at the Kofar Mata pit explain that even though the processes may look similar, the materials are different as they employ only natural ingredients and local methods of dyeing.
Curator: Patrick Enaholo
Researcher: Kehinde Katibi
Photographs: Kehinde Katibi
Text: Kehinde Katibi/Patrick Enaholo
© The Centenary Project