The last time I was in Bida was February 2020, after which, one by one, countries closed their borders. By mid-March of the same year, ramifications of coronavirus detained everyone from leaving their homes much less to travel. Across the globe, each day we faced the unknown. But life continues, and as time marches, I, once again, am able to greet the Etsu Nupe in his Bida palace and return to the Masaga glassmaker’s community.
The week leading up to the Abuja-Bida road trip, The Lost Legacy of Bida Bikini, was screened at the Alliance Francaise (Lagos) in conjunction with Screen Out Loud on March 13th. The attendance was good with a lively conversation during the Q & A session.
iREP International Documentary Film Festival at Freedom Park Lagos March 17-20, screened The Lost Legacy of Bida Bikini at Freedom Park.
Seven years of promoting heritage awareness and preservation in Nupeland includes articles, booklets, programs, international exhibitions, Instagram @bida_glassmakers, and the documentary (permanently displayed on the British Museum website). These efforts led to UNESCO designating Bida as the creative city of crafts and folk art in Nigeria. International and local designers are interested in the local crafts and we are hopeful that collaborations and projects will soon begin to emerge. Mr. Tarek Chazli, Chargé d’affaires of the Italian Embassy, expressed interest in visiting Nupeland and possible collaboration. Mr. Chazli accompanied me on this trip and it is hopefully that his trip will be the first of many to Bida for the Italian Embassy and others.
Women play an important role in Nupe royalty. Hajiya Aisha is the Emira or head of the Nupe women. Her title, Sagi Nupe, gives her the status as the highest ranking woman in the royal family. I am humbled and thankful for our friendship. Here is a photo of us on March 20,2022.
The Masaga glassmaker’s community suffered as a guild and cooperative during the past two years. There are only two elderly glassmakers remaining to work the recycled glass into beads. I met with the traditional leaders and we are in discussions as how to encourage 2-3 youth in apprenticeships. Bellows operators are not difficult to gather as this needs only strength and stamina but the craft of making beads and bangles is a long commitment to learn the skill and technology of the furnace and glassworks, not to mention patience and creativity. I fear we may be experiencing the last years of this craft even with local and international attention.
The making of glass beads and bikini raw glass is well documented within this website and in the documentary but another story may not have been highlighted sufficiently, which is the technology of making seamless bracelets. (Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France and Bling Bling in Bida)
Joëlle Rolland PhD, archaeologist at UMR 8215 Trajectoires, France studies the migration of glassmaking from Egypt to Gallo-Roman era and the innovation of Celtic technology of making seamless glass beads. Joëlle Rolland searched the globe for workshops still producing seamless glass bracelet with the same technology and concluded that the Masaga glassmakers are the only group remaining in the world who still know how to produce seamless bracelets in the same fashion as the Celtics. She discovered the work of Elisabeth Thea Haevernick who publish in 1960 her thesis on Celtic glass bangles in Bida and, the ethnologist, René Gardi who also researched Bida glass in the 1969 and wrote articles comparisons with the work of Celtic bracelets. As well as, Leo Frobenius in 1911 who visited Bida also illustrated the techniques of fabrication with the famous illustrations Celtic glass. All of this, by chance, led Joëlle to my documentation of the glassmaking in Bida. Joëlle explained that this technology is extremely difficult to replicate. She organises exhibitions about the Bida glassmaker’s seamless bracelet making.
Here is a new, 2 minute video of making of seamless glass bracelets on March 19,2022