Article Focus: Aso-Oke – History and How-to

The featured fabric for this week is Yoruba’s premium clothing known as Aso-Oke. We have put together several materials from various sources (wikipedia, blogs and search engines), plus our own view to make a complete reference for a good understanding of the fabric and the various factors necessary such as history, usage and importance.

Aso oke fabric, (Yoruba: Așǫ oke, pronounced ah-SHAW-okay) is a hand loomed cloth woven by the Yoruba people of western Nigeria. Aso oke means top cloth in the English language. Usually woven by men, the fabric is used to make men’s gowns, called Agbada, women’s wrappers, called iro, and men’s hats, called fila.

Aso-Oke is a short form of Aso Ilu Oke also known as Aso-Ofi meaning clothes from the up-country. It is the traditional wear of the Yoruba’s
(the tribe of the southwest people in Nigeria, Africa). The Yoruba’s are the second largest tribe in Nigeria after the Northerners. Aso-Oke is a cloth that is worn on special occasions by the Yoruba’s usually for chieftaincy, festivals, engagement, naming ceremony and other important events.

The beauty of Aso-Oke comes out more when it is taken as Aso-Ebi (group of people e.g. friends, families e.t.c). Cloth weaving (Aso-Oke) started centuries ago amongst the Yoruba’s but predominantly amongst the Iseyin’s (Oyo-State), Ede (Osun State) and Okene Kogi State. The fibres used for weaving are either locally sourced or brought from neighboring states (northern parts of the country).


making of aso oke on vogueinspire

The cotton is used in making the threads used in weaving Aso-Oke and it is mostly planted during the rainy season between the month of June and July. However the cottons would be ready for harvesting between November and February of the following year. Most cases after harvesting the cottons are kept in the bar for spinning.cotton



This is the process of separating the cotton seed from the wool. And in doing this a bow-like instrument called “Orun” in Yoruba language (Spindler). The weaver spread the wool and rolls it on the loom (the loom is a handmade wood used in weaving; this loom is usually made by local carpenters). The Spindler would be turned, and while it is being turned, it will start rotating thereby thinning the cotton. This is done on a continuos basis till all the wool has been spinned.

Wool_sorting,_Thurulcoona_Station_from_The_Powerhouse_Museum_CollectionCotton behaves like magnates thus easily attracting dirt; therefore the dirt’s has to be separated from the wool in order to make the wool fit for use. This process is known as sorting and there are machines for these purposes but in the absence of none, it can be sorted out manually. This is very tedious and time consuming.

This is the process where designs and patterns are made on the Aso-Oke while the cloth is being woven. The material used in cloth pattering includes the following:
– Akata (propeller)
– Iye (long wheel)
– Akawo (shortwheel)
– Gowu and kikgun (rollers)
– Aasa (strikers)
– Omu (extender) this is used in holding the reels
– Sanrin (metallic peg)
During patterning, the cotton reels are hanged upon the hangers on the sets of the metallic pegs on the ground. The reason for this is to make the cotton into bundles.

Aso-Oke  weavingAfter the above has been put in place, the actual weaving starts. The rolled cotton will be neatly inserted into the striker through the extenders. The weaver will tie Iro (filler) on his seat. There are to or more holes on the staff in which a small peg is tagged. On the upper hand of the Omu (Extenders), there is Okeke (Wheel or Axle) for pulling the Omu up and down. There are two step pedals under the extenders (Omu) which the weaver presses down interchangeably during weaving. The pedal when pressed enables the cotton to open and the Reeler put through to one side while the Striker knocks the reel to and fro to another side. This Striker allows the reel to be finely set interchangeably. The weaver handles the Oko (Motor) throws it inside the open cotton to be received by his other hand, movement of the Motor continues and faster as if the weaver is not touching it at all. The reel inside the motor will start giving a peculiar sound.
Sakala – si – sakala – sa
Sakala – si – sakala – sa

As the weaver continues this way, the cloth is weaved and gradually extends forward. The weaver uses the drawer to pull the cloth towards himself and the carrier obeys the force and moves towards him while weaving continues. Aso-Oke is indeed a beautiful sight to behold and that’s why it is such a wonder how, as cottons in few minutes become Aso-Oke., however the clothes goes by different names depending on the type, texture and quality.

There are three types of traditional aso oke worn by Yoruba people.screen-shot-2014-05-22-at-11-57-00-am

  • Alaari – a rich red aso oke.
  • Sanyan – a brown and usually light brown aso oke.
  • Etu – a dark blue aso oke.

Aso oke fabric is often worn with aran, a brown velvet with concentric designs.

Yoruba women’s garment

When people speak of an aso oke, they are usually referring to the traditional Yoruba women’s garment. It consists of four parts:

  • Buba – Yoruba blouse
  • Iro – a wrap skirt
  • Gele – head tie
  • Iborun or Ipele – shawl or shoulder sash

Formal wear

Nigerians around the world wear Aso-Oke fabric for special occasions including holidays, weddings, funerals and chieftain title ceremonies. All followers of the Yoruba religion also wear aso oke fabrics and hats.


#aso oke