Yoruba Classic Aso Oke [3 of 3]: Alaari – Tola Adenle

This is perhaps the most interesting of the three great classics.  Yeah, interesting may be a vague word but it’s the only word that comes to my mind as I write this.  Pardon me, I’m going to take a shot at the pronunciation but it’s NOT going to be that accurate: ALA (both ‘A‘s are as in apple) A (also as in apple)  RI (‘ is as in ‘re’ap).

Another interesting (?) fact must be mentioned here:  while Sanyan may be king and Alaari may be considered Number Two, it IS the Alaari – 


that tops the least, the Ondo variety, that is!  While it has been viewed by 792 people; the third-place Etu is close on its heels with 758; of Ondo’s  the regular Alaari  is next with 515 while the “king” is the least viewed with 509 views.

So much for our ancestors’ taste!


Three generations in Alaari: the older couple in classic while the father & son wear one of the modern (generally cheaper weaves) Alaari-type designs.

{hotograph:Christmas 2000.

Basic to this woven cloth style is the red color.  The oldest form of Alaari – that is, the classic – generally has a wide red strip and a thin strip in hues of anything pale yellow, off white or even near-khaki that runs in the same direction as the red.  Actually, the two classics that are striped – Sanyan and Alaari are woven with strips running in the same direction which the women generally sew in horizontals for the different pieces while the men have their sokoto – pants – sewn in verticals and the other two pieces: the awotele , undergarment, and agbada – big robe – sewn in verticals and horizontals [see below].  The tailors are masters at deciding this but there still seems a general pattern:  the bits over the arms are sewn horizontally while the body of the big robes run in the same direction of the sokoto.

WEDDINGSalaariJKandGBA bride and her older sister

Alaari is interesting because there are variations by sub-ethnic groups of Yoruba people.  The most dramatic designs that I’ve seen come from the Egin of Ondo town and environs in present-day Ondo State.  The Egin’s Alaari mixes the dominant red with yellows and greens though there are also the dominant red with thin strips of pale yellow or cream.  The sub-group can also lay claim to, perhaps, the most distinct woven cloths that mix Etu with bits of very thin dark reds, all of which threads are done at the stage of laying out the threads; the designs are hence already inlaid before weaving.  Other Yoruba groups – the “proper” Yoruba of Oyo – also wove variations of these.

Unfortunately, the weaving patterns seem to have died out but very old used ones can be bought at Oje Market, Ibadan, and Oje, Ede – the two dominant markets where Aso Oke can be bought. You can then take these to a very good dry cleaner to get them very clean and fresh.   I will post the market days when I return to Ibadan, my real home.  That’s where I have a calendar of the market days for 2011. The calendars, not the fanciest thing you would expect from the sources of those incredible aso oke weaves seen around – in fact, they are primitive, pardon me –   are sold at the two Oje markets, and since the markets take place every seventeen days, they help me plan trips.

Yeah, I visit them not just to buy but to window shop often, especially the one at Ibadan the way some women visit gold shops!   You need Ori (shea butter)?  Available at very cheap prices.  Or is it our traditional  pako (chewing sticks)?  Various very good ones are available to supplement your tooth paste which, apart from providing fresh breath, cannot compete with chewing those roots first, rinse, and then follow with your favorite  toothpaste.  I have a dentist niece who now swears by pako!  While dentists may not like this, a combination of the two has kept my visits to dentists over a lifetime to two, one of which was as a result of a dental accident.  I do not have a single cavity, nor is any of my ailments tooth-related.


Dear readers, I present, Alaari, one of the classic cloths made into “clothes [that] wear to shreds”, to borrow Ulli Beier’s description of Yoruba’s classic clothes in “Cloth only wears to shreds:  Yoruba textiles & photographs”  from Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum.  Hopefully, the clothes here will not only outlive the owners but will be passed on from one generation to the next till they become shreds in the tradition of our ancestors.  Here is a paragraph from “Letters to my niece”, The Nation on Sunday, February 15, 2009 which was reproduced on this Blog back in May.

“A personal note about the “immortality” of Yoruba cloths and clothes: I inherited an iborun & gele from the estate of my mother-in-law who died in 1982.  I’ve now used the set as upholstery fabrics.  Parts of the gele were in tatters and after being repeatedly told at occasions – as if I did not know –  that my gele was “torn”, I woke up one day and decided to cover an old harvest bench, including two small cushions with what could be salvaged from the two pieces.  “Timi the Law” (Late Rotimi Williams) who wore his shredded-by-age lawyer’s gown to courts till he died had points to prove; I did not!

One of my four kids, though, is already penned down as the next owner of Mama Osogbo’s old aso oke.”  It’s shown in another posting on Yoruba aso oke.

And for non-formal occasions but to complete men’s outfits, many go for one of the classics, and here’s a very good example because it’s proper and the fila – cap – sits correctly!

Governor Fashola of Lagos wearing fila alaariClassic Alaari on Lagos State governor, Alhaji Fashola


September 15, 2011

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6 Comments on “Yoruba Classic Aso Oke [3 of 3]: Alaari – Tola Adenle”

  1. Idera Says:

    Like wat adefolake says, no awotele. How many pack cn it make only agbada alone



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Ms. Ìdẹ̀rá,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I think 4 packs would be enough but as mentioned on the blog and in my YORUBA ASO OKE: A Tapestry of color …, I’d suggest you still ask the sellers who are very knowledgeable in such matters because the woven strips are very varied in widths and in the markets, retailers generally cut into package units that have reduced lengths for the strips these days because of strips. For the widths, some are woven in 6″-strips while some may be up to 8″ wide. Yoruba TRADITIONAL tailors are also very knowledgeable in required quantities for various styles, either with or without Àwọ̀tẹ́lẹ̀.

      If you are buying at either of the two Òjés, the sellers’ suggestion are usually reliable but if you are making a trip to Isẹyin, the weavers would still be your best counsellor; you’ll buy less TOTAL length because they just weave in single very long pieces which traders cut up for maximum profit.

      Hope this is of some help. The two Oje-Ibadan market days left for 2016 are next Sunday – 4th, and Tuesday, 20th.

      Best wishes,



  2. Adefolake Says:

    I was browsing through your website and I realize you know a lot about Aso Oke and I will appreciate it if you can assist me with this question. How many pieces of Aso Oke will make a big agbada ? Thank you for your assistance in this matter.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Folake,

      Thanks for visiting my blog.
      Please let me know if what you need is the big agbada with no pants/trousers and no awotele, underwear or the complete and I will let you know the number of pieces or packs you should purchase.




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