In 2015, I took my first trip to Bida. The reason for this trip was to offer condolences to the family of our chief protocol officer, Alhaji Essa Ndagi, whose many years of service in our company was appreciated and still today, who is sorely missed. I decided to stay on a week and explore the area. The series of reports from that trip can be accessed at the end of this post.
From Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, it takes a sane driver five hours of hard driving over extremely poor road conditions to arrive in Bida. An exhausting, dusty trip but well-worth the effort.
Bida is the second largest city in Niger State, in west-central Nigeria, an area with which I am fascinated. It is an area inhabited by Nupe people who are renowned for traditional industries that include blacksmithing; aluminum, brass and silver smithing; glassmaking and beadwork, weaving and cane weaving, woodcarving, and carpentry.
Nupe glassmaking, beadwork and brasssmiths (tswata muku) are found mostly in Bida.
Brass and glass-making traditional crafts have a long history in the area along with reed weaving and carved wooden stools. The Niger River runs through the state from which it is named providing an abundance of reed for weaving. The woodcarving tradition of the Nupe does not depend on the ceremonial or ritual use of artifacts.
Except for cloth weaving, the traditional crafts are guild-organized crafts in which membership is largely hereditary, and are done by men. Only textile weaving on a vertical loom is a traditional craft by women.
Glass making can be traced to the Ancient Egyptians about 3,500 years ago. The earliest archaeological finds of glass objects in Egypt date back to the reign of the Pharaoh Thutmosis III (1504-1459 BC). The most famous of these is the illustration in the Annals of Thutmose III at Kar- nak. (Paul T. Nicholson ,”Glass Vessels from the Reign of Thutmose III and a Hitherto Unknown Glass Chalice,” Journal of Glass, Vol 48, 2006.) In the last century BC, glass blowing (see Egyptian glass blowers here) was invented in Syria or Mesopotamia which gave rise to a variety of glass objects during Roman times. Glassmaking, the process of making glass from sand and soda ash, is said to originate in Egypt. However, there are those who disagree that the first true glass was made in coastal north Syria in the kingdom of Mitanni, Mesopotamia and brought to Egypt. (Paul T. Nicholson).
The Bida glass makers in oral history past down over the centuries repeat that their ancestors came from Egypt via Chad, the Bornu Empire and migrating from Kano to finally settle with the Nupe area thus bringing with them the knowledge of glassmaking.
The actual process of glassmaking is considered a secret to the glassmaking guild in Bida. However, I was given a sample of the glass and description of the process was explained. Below is raw glass, processed once a year from sand and soda ash brought from Lake Chad or now, Kano. The fire in the ground bakes the sand and soda ash and takes two weeks. Also, recycled and melted glass bottles are used to make beads and bangles. For full process, READ Bida Glass
Road to the workshop of the guild of glassmakers called Masaga.
Bead and bangle makers atelier.
Before any bead making begins. Wood has to be chopped to make the fire. The clay oven is made of the red clay from Bida. It is repaired or built again once a year. The bellows operator carries on the rhythmic air flow into the furnace by a constant push and pull of the wood staves. Pre-warmed glass is melted onto the iron rods. The long tongs are important. The man spreads out the melted glass with the tongs. The broad lamelliform knives are used to form the lumps of glass. Iron rods, tongs, and knives are the only tools that are used.
The tools are coated in the red clay of Bida and then the iron rods are heated and the clay bakes. This allows the bead to slide off the rod with relative ease when ready.
Below from left to right: Ayo Kuti, me, Allah Omar (bangle maker), Eba Mustafa (bead maker), bellows man, Alhaji Galedima, and two elders, young boy.
Read: A Memorial to Alhaji Essa Ndagi, here.
Roman Glass in Britain and in Bida here.