Yoruba classic clothes at weddings: Sanyan, Etu & Alaari – Tola Adenle

The three Yoruba great classics are Sanyan [Sanyanmiran – I recently learnt is also a name for the 1st one, thanks to Reader, Mr. Tao], Alaari & Etu – in that order are worn for big occasions as shown here.  There are variations in weaves and colors but Sanyan is always khaki-ish plus white; Etu is always black/dark blue and shades close to those while Alaari seems to come with the widest variations although red is the constant.

In the past, these classics were all woven in silk which made them affordable only to royalty and the people of means in society.  Even before the extinction of traditional sericulture among Yoruba people of Southwestern Nigeria, see:


the availability of cotton and the fact that more people could – and wanted to – afford better refinement, these fabrics started to be woven, still by hand as it’s done to date – in cotton.

Reference must be made to other ethnic groups in Nigeria that also wear hand-woven Aso Oke which name supposedly derived from ‘up country – up in Yoruba is oke and aso is cloth. 

Evidences of earlier intermingling from the migratory Nupe/Yoruba War Age shows in the commonality of, for example, etu of Yorubaland in the Southwest and Sokoto (Northwest) and Nupe (Tapa) of Central Nigeria.  What is more, the intricate hand-made embroideries of both the Northwest and Southwest from old clothes bear similarities.

These are all important points that must be borne in mind as one views pictures of clothes of the Yoruba from Southwestern part of Nigeria.


Unlike the Yoruba Engagement aso oke, the classics are generally worn – not by rule – by the parents.  Younger people are more attracted to the modern designs and colors.  The classics are simple and not flamboyant, perhaps conservative by modern-day taste!

The clothes here, therefore, showcase the three classics:  sanyan, etu & alaari worn by family members.

They were worn at weddings from 1998 and 2004 in the order they were worn although the order is supposed to be SANYAN, ẸTU & ALAARI.  The weavers at Iseyin got a notice too short for the December 1998 wedding and we therefore wore Alaari, supposedly Number Three while the indigo Etu was worn in December 2004.



For a sanyan aso oke (Yoruba Classic aso oke 1 of 3) wedding, blogger’s 4th piece is under a fifth piece iborun made from the same Western fabrics for the buba (blouse) for a May 1998 wedding at Ibadan, Nigeria.




Ok, before I go into descriptions on the reds worn here, a caveat:  busy, busy, busy … two handbags, one fancy while the other held ballet-type slippers for when my feet might hurt – women would understand – no classics!

ALAARIwweddingFOURpplPhoto Credit: Biodun Ogunmola




L to R in the picture are Dr. S.O. Adenle (bride’s uncle); Professor J. Adedeji (Groom’s father); Blogger (bride’s mother) and Dr. Depo Adenle (Bride’s father) during the church service.

In the above picture, blogger’s 4th piece, iborun alaari is under the navy blue velvet 5th piece – picking the navy blue handbag – for a December 1998 wedding at Ibadan, Nigeria.

Photo Credit:  Biodun Ogunmola, Ibadan, December 1998.

WEDDINGSalaariJKandGBBride’s sister wears a fifth set made from buba fabrics while her iborun is tied on the iro not just to accentuate but to hold iro in place!

Photo Credit: Biodun Ogunmola

WEDDINGSalaariDADDYPhoto Credit:  Biodun Ogunmola

The embroidery at the back which is always linked at shoulder area with the one in front is always so well done in manual embroidering that a touch with the palm feels as if the cloth has nothing on the surface; it’s not so with machine embroidery.

 Bride's mother uses brocade as 5th piece

A FIFTH piece of brocade to accentuate is used by bride’s mother for this beautiful classic aso oke Alaari, Ondo variety.  The bride’s mother’s dramatic gele is woven in modern style to complement the traditional Ondo Town alaari worn by both bride’s parents as it’s usually done.  The thread for the hand embroidery on agbada of bride’s father picks one of the colors from the alaari!  Drama galore for a very special day.

Generally, nobody tells the artists who work on these embroideries what colors to use but every one I see at formal occasions, they are always exquisitely complementary and bring out the beauty of the clothes even more.

As pointed out in the earlier “Yoruba Classic aso oke (3 of 3): Alaari – red dominates but other colors and patterns tend to vary from area to area. Please check out

http://emotanafricana.com/2011/09/16/yoruba-classic-clothes-3-alaari/  for a better understanding of the differences.


Ẹtù – The blacks/indigo/dark bluish


 Bride’s parents in Etu, and Bride and her Little Bride in Western outfits, a usual practice.





Etu was worn last which differs from above stated order because at the time of the second daughter’s wedding in December 1998, the weavers got too short a notice to have the “quality thread” – their words – needed for all family members; so we went for the Number Three, Sanyan, for the Number Two Child!  Parents can use any one of the three, or may even choose any of the modern vibrant colored and synthetic thread aso oke.  

My wish?  That we resist those bottom-of-the-ladder plastic-product synthetics by the Chinese and audaciously stamped with copyrights on patterns from ages long past!

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4 Comments on “Yoruba classic clothes at weddings: Sanyan, Etu & Alaari – Tola Adenle”

  1. Christianah Ajiki Says:

    Wow! Just wow! I totally enjoyed reading this. Thank you for giving such beautiful exposé on our traditional wears. I suddenly feel like getting one or two of those for myself. Haha!

    Liked by 1 person


    • emotan77 Says:

      Thanks very much, Ms. Ajiki.

      While I no longer write anything new on the blog, I will keep it accessible, and for ASO OKE purpose, I will endeavor to – as long as I can in the years to come – include the OJE MARKET DAYS every year. As I’m out of Nigeria for substantial time and generally not around there as new years start, I always endeavor to have the two markets – Ibadan & Ede – up here within the first three months.

      Beyond that, however, the days of posting on the blog are over; not too old(!) but nearing 74 and have started to take things slightly easier.

      BTW, you may be interested in purchasing my ASO OKE YORUBA: A TAPESTRY OF COLOUR & LOVE, A JOURNEY OF PERSONAL DISCOVERY.

      You can email me at tolaadenle@emotanafricana.com with a copy to tolaadenle@outlook.com.

      Thanks, again, for discovering emotan; my regards,

      Liked by 1 person


  2. uwera Says:

    Thank you for sharing such classic cultural information. I love the photos. It was nice to see a blend of the old and the new, and gain insight to the traditions behind it.



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