Red Walls of Bida – The Book

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Since 2014, I have been involved with research, study, and promoting awareness of the splendid traditional crafts in Nupe Land, Bida, Nigeria. On this blog find the first of my reports.

Bida Glass: Bangles and Beads

A four month exhibition on Celtic Glass in France has just ended where Bida glass making highlighted.

Bling-Bling in Bida

Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France

The next step is a documentary so stay tuned! If you would like a hard copy of this book, please email: leslaba@yahoo.com

Shyllon Museum of Art

One and a half hours drive out of Lagos toward Epe town, eastward on the Lekki Motorway is a relatively small sign that marks our destination, Pan-Atlantic University. I have accepted the kind invitation of Hugh and Robin Campbell (Nigerian Field Society and AOT) to meet the designing architect and director, Jess Castellote, of the almost opened Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art.

Our exuberant, over 60, host proudly states that he is beginning his second life.  After a full career as an architect, he recently completed a PhD in art history and has taken the position of director of the Shyllon Museum. His enthusiasm is infectious and our small group hangs onto his every word.

 

Dancer by Ben Enwonwu

Beadwork: contemporary and traditional royal crown of Yorubaland

What does it take to open the first of its kind university art museum in Nigeria? Vision,  donations, and dedication for starters! The vision began in 2014 when Prince Yemisi Shyllon proposed a university museum to house Nigerian art. Prince Shyllon has one of the most important private collection with an estimated 7000 works of Nigerian art and donated 1000 artworks (visit to Prince Shyllon’s private collection in 2012) to the museum with a donation toward construction and long term management of the museum. Prince Shyllon’s collection includes modern painting and sculptures by Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Olanrewaju Tejuoso, Yusuf Grillo, Peju Alatise, Osogbo artists, and traditional art such as  bronzes from Benin and royal crowns of Yorubaland.

Mr. Castellote begins the tour by explaining the dimensions of the museum, it is a big square box, 30x30x11 meters with only two windows. The stained rusty-red concrete is reminiscent of West African laterite soil, which presents an impressive contrast against the vast open and green campus. The architecture is something like a fortress but Mr. Castellote explains the design allows for insulation against tropical weather, provides security, and gives the visitor a chance to leave the outside totally behind them and enter into an art experience without distraction. The indoor area is designed with open and fluid space so that the visitor can experience a work of art from different angles and levels. Mr. Castellote explains,“Spectators are a part of the spectacle.”

One of the two windows that look to the outdoors, beyond is the unfinished building that will be used as an art centre for youth.

The museum focus is to learn about Nigerian art and heritage through continuity from tradition to contemporary. The emphasis is on education programmes, which is intended to bring 25 students from various local public schools for 200 days of the year. With a purchase of a bus, youth will be collected from public schools to experience art in all its forms i.e. a special youth pavilion is being built for classes. (see above photo)

Olanrewaju Tejuoso prepares art installation at the entrance of YSMA

As we leave the museum, we meet Olanrewaju Tejuoso, a Nigerian artist whose work configures wood and discarded empty sachets water, biscuit wraps, and empty bags of processed foods, polythene and foils. This installation will be greet visitors. (Watch Olanrewaju’s video about discarded sachets of water in Nigeria and his art.)

Now Nigerians and visitors have a beautiful addition to its thriving art scene besides art galleries to appreciate an astonishing collection of Nigerian art. The official opening of Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art is October 19, 2019.

Visits

From October 19th 2019, when the YSMA will be open to the general public, visits to the museum to experience the best of Nigerian arts will always be free to all thanks to the partners and friends of the YSMA from Tuesday to Saturday.

Hours

Tuesday 10am – 4pm
Wednesday 10am – 4pm
Thursday 10am – 4pm
Friday 10am – 4pm
Saturday 10am – 4pm

 

 

 

 

 

Bling-Bling in Bida

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Bahagadochi

(praise and respect for His Royal Highness) 

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His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr) Yahaya Abubakar CFR, ETSU (King) NUPE and the Chairman of the Niger State Council of Traditional Rulers

Above: HRH ETSU NUPE examines a piece of raw ‘bikini’ glass.

Once again, Yacubu, the best driver in Nigeria, and I took the journey from Abuja to Bida. It takes 5 hours to cover this distance.  The roads are hot, dusty, and broken and can only be described as ‘rutted, rough, and dangerous’. It is Ramadan; people are fasting from dawn to dusk which incorporates a sense of restless urgency to arrive at one’s destination before sunset.

I have an audience with the ETSU (Emir) His Royal Highness Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker. My request was granted for Saturday, May 18th and my goal was to present the Emir with catalogues from the exhibition Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France where the story of Bida glass is displayed prominently.

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

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photo credit: Joëlle Rolland

Traditional crafts are threatened by cheap, mass imports. Handwork is, more and more, considered to be degrading among the youth.   Yet, in Nupeland, people honor their culture and traditional crafts in a way that is rarely seen today.  And, the ETSU leads his people with his deep commitment to preservation of heritage and in doing so, strengthens the community as they face the pressures of technology.

In a very small way, I have been allowed to participate in documentation of Bida glassmakers. I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to meet the Emir and his proud and capable craftsmen. It was wonderful to sit on a bench in a simple workshop under a mat-covered mud hut and watch the skillful hands of a glassmaker. Again and again, I admired the calm, the ease, and the dedication with which they work.

https://nomad4now.com/articles/bida-bracelets-ancient-art-of-glassmaking/

https://nomad4now.com/articles/bida-glass-bangles-and-beads/

My gratitude to the ETSU for his patience with me while learning about the NUPE culture and the craftsmen who continue their trade, day in and day out, will remain cherished moments in my daily life.

Bahagadochi

(praise and respect for His Royal Highness) 

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Bida Glass at MuséoParc Alésia, France

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“In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.” – Alexander von Humboldt 

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Are you in France this summer from April 6th to September 22nd? If so, a trip to the Alésia, ancient town situated on Mont Auxois, above the present-day village of Alise-Sainte-Reine in the area of Côte d’Ore, France, is well worth adding to your agenda. It is a chance to take in the Gallo-Roman ruins but also visit an unusual and first of its kind exhibition of Celtic glassmaking that does not only demonstrates medieval times but traces the path of glass making from ancient times through a series of seemingly unrelated connections to a fundamental and essential aspect of the modern world…glass bracelets.

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https://www.alesia.com/lieux-de-visite-en/#centre

The exhibition studies the connection of migration of glassmaking from Egypt to Gallo-Roman era and its connection to modern day Nigeria. Joëlle Rolland PhD, researcher professor, at Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, René Ginouvès has spent the last year organizing this exhibition about the production of Celtic glass bracelets.  As Joëlle Rolland expertise is Celtic glass, her research spanned Egypt, Nepal and the glass makers of Bida, Nigeria. She discovered the work of Elisabeth Thea Haevernick who publish in 1960 her thesis on Celtic glass bangles and, the ethnologist,  René Gardi who also researched Bida glass in the 1970s and wrote articles with 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, Nigeria. Read: Bida: Bangles and Beads.

During the last four years, we have stayed in close contact sharing information. Joëlle invited me to participate in the upcoming exhibition on Celtic glass at MuséoParc Alésia. Joëlle will be demonstrating the manufacture of bracelets with the glassmaker on the weekends of April 13-14 and also in September, the weekend of 21-22.Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 1.41.12 AM

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For those of you who might not be able to visit, below is my contribution to the catalogue and the table of contents;Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-001Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-002Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-004Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-005Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-006Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-007Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-008Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-009Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-010Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-011Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-012Catalogue Bling-Bling 2019 TAP Lesley Lababidi-013

NUPE DAYS – Merit Award

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I am sitting in my garden late in the afternoon on a December day in Lagos. A cool, dry harmattan breeze blows across the terrazzo patio.  I hear the garden gate squeal as metal rubs against metal. I am aware of someone entering. A security guard hands me a white envelope with the words neatly embossed:

OFFICIAL

ETSU NUPE’S PALACE

Wadata, Bida, Niger State, Nigeria

Surprised and intensely curious,  I am careful not to tear the envelope so as not to damage the contents.  I pull out a beige, one page letter. It reads:

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I had not a clue that I had been considered for a community service award in Nupeland, After a short time, I realized that I had 48 hours to get to Bida where Nupe Days and the ceremony was to be held. Airline tickets to and from Abuja had to be organized, drivers, food, appropriate clothes, money, accommodations …. so many people to call upon to help me put together this trip. Everyone pitched in to get me to Bida on time!

Arriving in Abuja, there was another 5 hours to drive over broken, rough, potholed roads.  After checking into Bab Hub Motel and changing my dusty clothes, I visit the glassmakers of Bida on my way to the palace and give my respect to the ETSU.

The programme laid out each days activities:

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Horse stables throughout Northern Nigeria—Sokoto, Kibbi, Niger—and from Burkino Faso came to Bida to race their best horses. The prizes ranged from money to generators. The races only began once the ETSU was seated. P1040525

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Dusk is short-lived in this part of the world and during harmattan season, the dusty air envelops everything. As soon as the sun sets, all activities come to an abrupt end and everyone rushes to get to the road as soon as possible.

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From the race ground, I return to the motel and change clothes for the award event. There are cultural shows, music, and speeches before the awards are presented:

Then I hear my name being called to stand in front of the high table to receive the Merit Award.

I wish to express my profound appreciation to His Royal Highness the ETSU Nupe  for the award. I also extend my appreciation to all the Nupe Traditional Rulers of Niger, Kwara, Kogi and the FCT Abuja. My profound gratitude also goes to the entire Nupe Kingdom, all Nupes within and outside Nigeria for the honor. A special thanks goes to Alhaji Abubakar Mahmoud (Dangaladima Nupe, Hakimi Etsu Audu) who has been a friend of the family for his role in coordinating this recognition.

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**Most photos were taken by my driver, Yacubu, with my camera. The first photo of the ETSU is a photograph from the royal photographers. The last 4 pictures of receiving the award was taken by royal photographers. ***All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the permission of Lesley Lababidi 2019.

 

Red Walls of Bida – Revisited 2018

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ETSU of Nupe
Emir His Royal Highness (Bahagadochi) Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker greets people with the traditional royal gesture. The umbrella is significant as it provides shade to spotlight the Emir, the symbol of authority and the seat of traditional power.

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The people of Bida greet ETSU with raised right hand, closed fist in the traditional salute: Ranka-shi-deddy – May your life be prolonged!

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ETSU of Nupe
Emir His Royal Highness (Bahagadochi) Alhaji Yahaya Abubaker

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Our entourage presents gifts to the ETSU and praise his wisdom and thankful for his time and attention to our visit.

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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.

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NIger Sate – Wikipedia

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.

The colours are the traditional colours of Nupe, weaving done 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.

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Bead and bangle makers atelier. DSC_0261

 

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.P1020037  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.DSC_0279

 

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.

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Glass Bangles

 

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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.

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Read: A Memorial to Alhaji Essa Ndagi, here.

Red Walls of Bida – Introduction here and here.

Bida Glass: Bangles and Beads here ; Bida Brass-work here : Bida Blacksmith here.

Roman Glass in Britain and in Bida here.

 

(All rights reserved, copyright 2018. To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)