Byfield talks on textiles

by Jennifer Chen | 2/17/94 6:00am

History Professor Judith Byfield spoke to a small group of students last night about the evolution of the craft of adire, a tie-dyed African textile used in America for knapsacks, shoes and wall-hangings.

Byfield's speech, the second in the Black Caucus Lecture Series, detailed the history of adire in Abeokuta, a city in the Nigerian city-state Yorubaland. The adire industry has flooded American markets in recent years in the form of marketable products, she said.

Byfield brought in several samples of adire and showed slides of Nigerians dressed in traditional adire clothing.

In the 1920s the adire industry was the most lucrative industry in Abeokuta. But by 1939 the international depression had stifled the boom of the industry, she said.

Byfield said by the 1960s the sole workers in the dying industry were women, whom historians have characterized as illiterate, old and poor. But a new, younger generation of dyers flooded the craft in the 1980s.

"The Nigerian schools now teach [the adire] craft in their art programs," Byfield said.

The schools and the new generation of adire dyers offer new hope for more extensive international trade and new foreign markets, she said. But the increase in the product's demand has led to its mass production and a loss of uniqueness.

"In the effort to mass produce the cloth, the rich variety and complexity of patterns that characterized it in the early part of the century have been lost," Byfield said.

Byfield, who received her doctorate in history at Columbia University last year, researched the evolution of the craft of adire for her dissertation.

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