Yoruba Sericulture, contd.: The Akinkoye Collections (Male & Female) – Tola Adenle


Please note that to get old Yoruba silk clothes these days, one would need to search far and wide and, possibly on the web! 

Another fact that needs being stated here for the benefit of non-Nigerians:  ALL CLOTHES that are called aso oke ARE HAND-WOVEN, not factory-produced. 

Families in Yorubaland generally pass on the clothes of fathers to the oldest male children as has been pointed out in other essays on this category on the blog.  They generally do not sell what they have.  It therefore means that men who have those old silk outfits either inherited them from parents, old relatives or purchased them quite a while back, at least not less than fifty years.

The Akinkoye Collection is very unique and very impressive even for someone in her seventh decade of life as I had never seen so many old clothes in one household.

The interesting thing about the Collections is that both the husband and wife, Dr. Olu & Mrs. Motolani (Tola to most),  wear the clothes very actively which was how I became aware and got fascinated; we attend the same church.  While many who know me rave about my love of aso oke for Sunday services, Tola is several cuts above that.  My  personal collection contains a few old ones while I hardly see Tola wearing any modern aso oke.

Perhaps the most impressive thing – and a very heartening report about the Akinkoye Collection is the fact that the clothes are so well kept that they appear as if kept at a museum when we went to photograph them early April.  They wear the clothes, and not only have them cleaned but the clothes are taken to Yoruba Oloolu.  These are men trained in the art of restoring the luster and feel of aso oke
through a technique that involves blowing a spray of water and then actually BEATING them with a special heavy piece of wood.

In fact, when I sent a single agbada picture after restoration to Tao, the reader who suggested I do some more work on the clothes, he wondered in an email if wax had been applied!

Some of the silk items – not all are silk but ALL the male complete outfits are –  are already so fragile that care need be taken that they are not lost to wear and tear as well as ravages of time.  This is more pronounced for the female iborun and the male osolo – shawls.


Here, again, are some words for different pieces of male clothes:

Agbada                                       Men’s big wear – gown-ish – 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 takewhite s 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 Female Clothes

I couldn’t come up with ideas on how to display these magnificent pieces unless I wore them – taking my own buba along – and then ruin them!  They were brought out from storage, all neatly cleaned and with general dosage of Oloolu work.

‘Lu’ means to ‘beat’ in Yoruba which is what the men – yeah, it is a male job – actually do, hence the name Oloolu:  a person who ‘beats’.  The expanded word would be eni ti o nlu aso,  aso, of course, is cloth, clothes, clothing.  In Yoruba, a word can mean several things depending on inflection.

I decided to arrange them on a sofa which was the same place for one of the Agbada Etu.

Please note that some of the pieces on the sofa were woven from cotton while a few were woven in silk.


Here is the SANYAN ensemble that Tola wore at Easter which made me decide to request a picture session of as many as possible from her collection of classic aso oke.  I did not know that Dr. Akinkoye would also oblige me with having photographs of his magnificent pieces taken.  This Ondo [Egin] Sanyan’s weave is very different from the usual ones outside the area.  Check the more common weave at:


It shows a lot of creativity on the part of the man who laid out the threads: bold and thinner magenta rimmed by tan and cream, shades of which are visible not only on the iro and gele but also on the different patterned buba. 

And putting these various patterns of SANYAN together with a splash of ALAARI that comes with its own Sanyan homage is a testament to Tola’s love of the traditional artistry of weavers of the past.

She had iro  and gele made from the iro and iborun that she had handed down to her; a buba from another old but different patterned Sanyan, and to have a complete outfit of four pieces – four or five, remember – she took an Alaari iborun to complete the look she wanted.

The Ondo may have more varieties of Alaari  than other Yoruba group but even then, this old one is very unusual.  You can compare it to the general pattern by checking above link.

All of Tola’s [above] pieces here are silk.

Note the photograph of Dr. Akinkoye in the background, a photograph that shows a bit of the dramatic lines in his silk Agbada Alaari [it’s below].


This silk iborun is also an Alaari  with blue that fades into white adding to its drama.

Unfortunately, it has become so frail that wear and tear AND ravages of time are apparent.  The silk pieces are incredibly gentle to the touch as silks are, and this could be packed into a very small ball or rectangle; definitely not advised nor suggested!


Here are the various pieces.  There are a few three-pieces to which Tola would have to add buba – top – some are iro & gele.  At the back (top) on the left is an old Jawu, a name we’ve come across in the earlier postings.  Ja means ‘to break’ or a ‘break’ which is a description of discontinuation of laying out of threads at the stage which later produces holes in the cloth woven.  Owu is ‘cotton’ or ‘thread’, and put together, we have Ja Owu:  discontinue the thread!


The Male Clothes

Please note that while only Agbada is shown in each classic, it is understood that there four pieces in each complete male clothing set:  Gbariye [awotele), Sokoto, Agbada & Fila.



p14696_137759_2_re_silkagbadasanyan-back(2)Back View

This, like all the male outfits, was hand-woven in silk.







Darker-hued Etu

Alaari – The Reds



Back & Front views of a woven-with-stripes Alaari

AKINKOYEalaariAGBADADarker-hued alaari

Again, two different colors  – this time – of Alaari.  Both are silk but while the top one is darker and the weaver brings pizzazz to his work with the splash of white to the garment’s sleeves, the second one tends more towards magenta/fuchsia and the splash of white – makes me think it’s the same weaver or same weaving group – these two magnificent pieces.

I particularly like these alaari because of the demarcation patterns that clearly delineate a gbariye pattern in the mid sections – see above explanations – although this does NOT mean that an underwear, that is gbariye, would not be needed.  An agbada cannot be worn without the underwear or the male dressing would be incomplete!

In some African cultures: Senegal, Mali and a few others, agbada are worn with no Yoruba-type underwear, and theirs are generally made of light cotton fabrics, and their men also look regal in the outfits although, you will agree, less interesting – pardon my saying so – and definitely less dramatic!

All the embroidery on the clothes are manually done.  EVERYTHING about classic aso oke: producing the silk threads, weaving and sewing is usually done by hand.

These days, that is not the case, including fabrics patterned like classics but the products of – in many cases synthetics – Chinese factories! Many people have these machine-embroidered; these won’t be classics, anyway even if they “look like” them!

Migratory influences also show in the embroideries; there is a cross pattern embroidered on the first etu while the others show the Northern Nigeria pattern.  I’ve touched the fact that peoples of Sokoto area in Northwestern Nigeria, the Tapa (Niger State) and the Tiv of Central Nigeria all wear etu, although the Tiv wear a lot of theirs as fila which they wear in mostly the gubi style that many Yoruba, especially the older people, favor.  Check out:




These, OSOLO, are perhaps unique to the Egin [Ondo indigenes].  In most parts of Yorubaland, males do not use  iborun (shawls).   This beautiful number is hand-woven in silk.

Finally, I must acknowledge the debt of gratitude that we all owe to the Akinkoyes for allowing us a peep into their vast Collection; believe it or not, these are but a few, and I’m thanking them not only for this but as a Nigerian by blood – if not most of the time by orientation, I like to thank in advance so that I can have access to more!

[All Photographs by Dr. Depo Adenle.  Taken at Ibadan, April 6, 2013.]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 4:10:01 a.m. [GMT]

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