Posted by News Express | 21 January 2022 | 1,347 times
By IJENDU IHEAKA, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Akwete is a town in Ukwa East Local Government Area of Abia, famous for creative handwoven textile industry. The industry dominated by women, predates the emergence of Nigeria as an independent nation.
Mazi Christian Uwaezuoke, the Secretary, Joint Council of UmuIhueze, Amakam and Umueze Autonomous Communities of Akwete clan, said the industry dates back to 1485. He also explained why the industry is dominated by women.
“Oral history says that the Akwete textile industry began about the 15th century.
“The creative endeavour that metamorphosed to the production of the Akwete cloth was first seen with one of the women married to an Akwete man, called Okere Egbe.
“Akwete people call the wife of Egbe, Daa-Ada Nwakata (daa is a prefix for elderly women)
“We were told that Daa-Ada Nwakata was taught the weaving process in a dream and she started it with raffia palm fibers and later used sisal-hemp fibres.
“But as time progressed, those who learnt and practised the skill after her demise, began to acquire and use more sophisticated, industrially-processed synthetic fibre yarn for their weaving,” he explained.
Uwaezuoke said the implication of Daa-Ada Nwakata being taught the weaving art from the spirit realm, was that the production process and the gender to be involved, must follow the pattern showed her.
“ Against what Daa-Ada Nwakata was shown, many Akwete men learnt the skill, but on entering the business, the gods visited them with bitter experiences, including business failure.
“That is why today, our men are not allowed to be in the business, no full-fledged Akwete man is involved in the production or marketing of the cloth.
“Those men who tried it among us failed woefully,” he said.
Mrs Patience Okere, corroborated what Uwaezuoke said, stressing that the guidelines given by Daa Ada Nwakata was the reason Akwete women teach only their female children the art.
Okere, an Akwete weaver, born and married in Akwete, said the weaving business was the only business she knew.
“I started learning the weaving trade when I was about 12 years old, as is the tradition in Akwete, and I have been weaving till date, now I am in my early seventies,” she said.
Mrs Chizuru Nwulu, another weaver, said she knew no other means of livelihood since childhood except weaving,
She said that she learnt weaving at an adolescent age in 2010 through her mother.
“I don’t have a farm and do not know how to farm, this is the only thing I have ever done to earn a living.
“I will like to pass on the weaving skills to my daughters when they come of age, because engaging in weaving business is rewarding,’’ she said.
Like Nwulu, Okere acknowledged that the business was rewarding, but regretted that the business nosedived, as a result of high cost of production materials and low demand for the cloth.
She said that without serious intervention, the business may go into extinction, which she also attributed to high production cost, with resultant high cost of finished products.
Mrs Helen Ebere, the President, Akwete Cooperative Society, who spoke on the challenges facing the weaving business, put the membership of the cooperative society at 200.
She said that the cooperative society has survived for many decades, adding that for some time now, production has reduced.
She blamed rampant kidnapping in Abia from 2010 for being responsible to the misfortunes of the weaving industry.
Ebere described the Akwete cloth as collectors’ delight, hence majority of the buyers come from outside the country.
“Since the Europeans and Americans that visit Abia and Ukwa area before 2010 stopped coming following kidnapping incidences, the market nosedived badly.’’
Ebere, a retired teacher, said she engaged in the weaving to augment her poor and `inconsistent’ salary until her retirement in 2005.
Ebere, 75, however, is skeptical about the sustenance of the weaving trade in Akwete, without serious government’s intervention.
“It will not be easy to sustain the trade as things are now, but with assistance, we will encourage our children to continue to learn the trade.
“Our products, unfortunately are not in high demand now. We have been having few orders since 2010 because of the rise in cost of our production materials.
“Before then there was no kidnapping and the Europeans and Americans use to come around, and when they come they buy in large quantities.
“Nigerians were also buying our clothes, but now our clothes are sold in very low quantities, mostly bought by people from Rivers and Lagos states.
“The government, however, appears to be interested in sustaining our work and the creativity involved in our handwoven Akwete clothes.
“Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia and former Transition Committee Chairman, Mrs Stella Igbokwe of our local government (Ukwa East) had visited us once.
“But like previous governments, after their visits, and promises, nothing happened,” she lamented.
The weavers were unanimous that they have technological handicaps that confined them to only a handmade loom for production which takes between seven days to two weeks to produce a piece of the cloth.
They also pointed out that their marketing challenges had made them resort to the use of the Daa-Ada Nwakata method with only them and their relations marketing and selling the clothes.
They also lamented that the high cost of production materials especially the synthetic yarn, increased the price of a piece of the cloth to between N15,000 to N25,000, with resultant reduction in demand.
Stakeholders advocate government’s conscious policy to boost the creative Akwete textile industry as well as vigorous enlightenment campaign that men cannot survive in the Akwete weaving business. (NANFeatures)
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