Yoruba Classic Clothes – Tola Adenle

Front of the Book!

ObaADENLEearly 60sR

Photo Credit:  Unknown.                       Book Cover Design:  Adejoke Adenle Adedeji, 2006.


The Basic Classic designs of which there are variations, especially the Alaari:


Number One:  Sanyan, the “king of clothes”


Photo Credit:  Depo Adenle, May 1, 2007.


Number Two:  Etu OR Olowu dudu – the black/indigo yarm

etu-or-olowu-duduTXTLSPhoto Credit: Depo Adenle, May 1, 2007

Number Three:  Alaari – which I describe as “the reds” although they ALWAYS have another single color – beige, tan or light yellow – mixed with the red is the design that has lent itself to beautiful innovations.  Although it may be ranked third, it has proved the most popular among blog visitors, having been viewed by over a thousand people:  816 (eight hundred and sixteen) for the Ondo variation, and 538 (five hundred and thirty-eight) for the basic design – below – at its most basic, while the “kingly” Sanyan has had 542 (five hundred and forty-two), and Number Two Etu has had 773 (seven hundred and seventy-three.


Photo Credit:  Depo Adenle, May 1, 2007.



Some words to know:

Agbada                                       Men’s big wear – gownish – under which a smaller agbada- style outfit called gbariye is worn.

Sokoto                                        Men’s trouser – usually much bigger than narrow Western trouser and can be cinched – sort of – at the waist with draw strings.

Gbariye                                     The third-piece for men’s complete formal wear.  Except for etu, the three pieces are made of same cloth; etu takes white gbariye

Fila                                             The cap which comes in different styles.  Those will be taken up at a later day.

Osolo [Ondo]                            Alaari shawl for men which they throw on top of the agbada.  The men are always quite a sight when seen in groups wearing this!


The Sanyan worn by Late Oba Samuel Adenle in above picture [Early Sixties] does not show much of the embroidery but there’s still a lot of statement made by the little shown with ja’wu [jawu] : the clover-like hole breaks in the embroidery process.

The tight and rich hand-embroidery on the Sanyan is typical for older Yoruba men.  It’s simple and a clover-like shape is a jawu design, that is, omitted spaces during the thread laying-out Stage to create sort of voids; in this case, the jawu creates the lace-type clover-like hole mentioned above.

A couple of jawu are apparent to the left of the embroidery [right side for the picture subject].

The agbada was inherited by the oldest son, Late Engineer Dosu Adenle before it ended up with Late Dr. Sola Adenle, the Number Two son who also had his own Sanyan.  It is now in the custody of one of Dr. Adenle’s sons, a continuation of the Yoruba tradition of classic clothes never being owned by the person to buy and use them first.

If truth be told, the men’s wear in the category of the classic Yoruba wears – and even modern ones – are the most dramatic even though the women’s wears with all the jewelries and other accessories tend to get noticed most.

The gowns are as big as clothes to be worn should be, and they are grand with dramatic embroideries, especially when hand-embroidered.  There are no stiff points as are common with machine embroideries and the subtle stitchings show even more than the generally loud machine work.

Check out cover of above book for affirmation!

Please note that only the Alaari and Sanyan worn at the wedding – below – and the Sanyan on the book cover are CLASSIC textiles.   The other clothes worn by Kabiyesi -below – and Mama – further down – are variants of Alaari.


p14696_138044_1_re_malepapa67Photo Credit:  Depo Adenle, 1967.

In above picture, Oba Adenle wears a pattern of etu with bold white stripes on a day he went to view a masquerade performance.  Picture taken after the return from what must have been a Command Performance judging from the smile on the face of Kabiyesi!

Embroideries are usually done on men’s outfits at the following places on the agbada:  big ones at the back and a huge one in front which starts, say, below the belly button and, MEANDERING up to around the neck!  That’s the only way I can describe them!

Talking of embroideries done by hand, here are two to dazzle.  They were at the same wedding.  The two fathers wore Alaari while the groom’s uncle wore Sanyan with ONE OF the embroidery points tantalizingly placed in front of the shoulder!  The embroidery at the back of the Alaari is shown in the other picture.



And finally, somewhere in our places – physical and picture albums & e-files – lies a photograph of Dr. Depo Adenle wearing a Nupe (Tapa)  SILK Sanyan agbada that we purchased in the market at Bida in 1983.  The Nupe of Central Nigeria in present-day Niger State are  supposed to be linked to the Yoruba.

Like many Yoruba adult males, Dr. Adenle, of course, had his own made for the wedding of our first daughter; there’s a picture of him wearing the one he had made for the wedding in “Yoruba Classic aso oke Sanyan (1 of 3):                 http://emotanafricana.com/2011/09/01/yoruba-classic-aso-oke/; it’s also in the wedding post

It is woven with cotton yarn.

Yoruba woman dressed for a formal occasion Late 1950sOlori Adeyoyin Adenle in 4-piece old Omolangidi intricatively-woven [the overlay design was called omolangidi] aso oke.  The fourth piece – the iborun – is on her laps.

Picture taken at Osogbo, 1950s. [Photographer unknown]

The Nupe SANYAN picture will be used right above here when located, especially as its silk material makes it imperative to gather all the reachable cousins here before, hopefully, an eventual permanent home.  I pay due respect to Kole Omotoso for the allusion to his homage to his Caribbean in-laws after the death of his late wife, Marguerite of Barbados that led him to write “Gathering the Cousins”.

Pictures are therefore still welcome.

On May 27, 2011, I posted “Cloth wears to shreds …”:


and earlier –


They are must-reads for enjoyment and some understanding of the  descriptions in this posting.

Here’s a male dancer-apparel to tantalize those who may not have read the earlier postings, two months after the birth of this blog.  I will suggest, though, that a reading of “Cloth wears to shreds…” – see link above.

Gbárìyè dándógó designed for Yoruba classical dance.  As dancer turns, pirhouettes and flips, the zillions of little pieces twirls about him from below the chest.  It’s always quite a sight to behold because your eyes are on the cloth, not the man whom you may be unable to pick from a crowd if he changes from the outfit!
Dándógó; designed for classical dance. 
[From Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum website, USA.]

Generally, the Yoruba do not believe you buy classic aso oke and own it for its entire life.  You merely use it, while holding on to it for the next generation to use and given new life, and then passed on and on!  The earlier essays should introduce readers to Yoruba clothes, especially the men’s clothes which the Akinkoye Collection – as I’d like to have them known – grandly illustrates.  What’s more joyful is that both he – and the wife, Tola – have more stored elsewhere!  See:

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