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)

Princess Odiakosa, Chocolatier, a passion and a protest.

“We have failed ourselves if we are waiting for the government to tell us the way our lives should go.” – Princess Odiakosa

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Princess Odiakosa, founder of Kalabari Gecko Fine Chocolates

7C6016D5-354A-4AF4-87FE-4656A5098D1CImagine a box of chocolate truffles on Valentine’s Day handcrafted in Nigeria – sourced from the highest quality cacao beans in Osun State, home-roasted, ground and tempered, then mixed with pure cacao butter, sugar with artisanal techniques to capture the essence of a totally made in Nigeria chocolate experience! A pipe dream? An impossibility? Under the brand name, Kalabari Gecko, Princess Odiakosa has thrown down the gauntlet to take the challenge that one day Nigeria’s name will be synonymous with chocolate.

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I met Princess on a Legacy trip to Calabar in 2012. On a bus going to visit the Calabar Museum, we introduced ourselves. Princess, a financial consultant and manager of the training department, direct sales and marketing, at Dbrown Consulting, shared her dream about making hand-made chocolate from Nigerian cacao beans. “My dream is to see a chocolate fountain in the airport and every mall.” I saw the seriousness and determination in Princess’s eyes. However, I knew to produce cocoa from the cacao bean to luxury market in Nigeria was a radical aspiration. There are problems that chocolatiers in other countries do not face such as continuous power outages that ravage Nigeria. Most people would advise: ‘don’t give up your day job’.

In 2014, Princess travelled to Sweden to learn the art of chocolate production. Before she began the course she was passionate about the idea of making chocolate but as she learned about the process, sourcing the cacao bean locally, her passion transformed into a different kind of love affair, loving the many stages of the process. Princess sources the beans from farmers in Osun State where they have been fermented, dried, and cleaned then she roasts and grinds beans to a liquified state and mixes the raw chocolate with her special recipes. “I love experimenting Nigerian cacao bean, Forastero; it is really dark and low in bitterness.” Step by step she researched, developed her brand, and opened her company.

Cacao pods, Forastero, a tree from the evergreen family. Forastero means ‘stranger’ or ‘outsider’ in Spanish. Ordinary, everyday cocoa with strong, earthy flavours. Found in Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast.

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Osun State in Nigeria – Wikipedia

Princess has not given up on her dream nor has she given up her day job. Recently, I visited Princess at her newly-outfitted kitchen and asked, “Why do you think in past decades that no one has had the interest in developing the cacao bean into luxury chocolate in Nigeria?” Princess explains:

“In primary school, we were told to draw a map of Nigeria and within each region draw natural resources, minerals, and cash crops. We colour-coded each product – limestone, yams, groundnuts, palm oil, kola nut, cacao beans, tin, etc. Ten years later that changed, when we drew the map of Nigerian resources, we just slapped a big a barrel of oil in the middle of the country and that was it.

At one point, we [Nigeria] were getting it right. But then, we got distracted. We are people that grab by the stem and not begin at the roots. Cacao bean export was the mainstay of Nigerian economy before the oil boom. The moment oil was discovered, cocoa farming was abandoned. We have oil; we send it overseas to be refined and then [they] sell it back to us as fuel. Same thing happens with cacao beans. We sell our cacao bean at a cheap rate and buy back as cocoa and chocolate which is expensive; it is a multi-billion dollar business outside Africa. We love chocolate but we don’t want to make it.

Yet, in our conversations we blame the government. We say the government is not doing this or that but at a certain age, we have to stop blaming the government. We need to do something. If we all keep talking about a negligent government until we are very old, I think we failed ourselves waiting for the government to tell us the way our lives should go. So, I said I can’t refine petroleum products but I can refine cacao to chocolate. Making chocolate is my passion and my protest.”

Last summer Princess was in England to meet a well-known chocolatier. The woman was late to the appointment. Apologetically, she explained that the summer heat ruined their confectionery and they had to move everything into a tiny, air-conditioned room and then the air-conditioner, itself, quenched. “I looked at her and said, ‘Guess what? The way you are frustrated today, this is my every day!’” Princess emphasises what all of us are aware of in Nigeria that the major obstacle of productivity is lack of constant electricity and the expense/maintenance of generators:

“When I was traveling back from my last trip, it was very difficult to think about electricity. I asked myself why am I stressing myself over electricity? I have a good consultancy career and a generator to run my refrigerator and television. But then I reminded myself that if I had electricity what would be the next excuse? My commitment is beyond a refrigerator and TV, I want to change the rhetoric about Nigeria.

Making chocolate gives me freedom. Freedom to talk. I am doing something for my country. I am making something for Nigerians to give…something sweet and delicious, something of our identity…chocolate, the sweetest part of Nigeria.

Tomorrow, when my children ask me, ‘what did you do?’ I can show them that I left a trail for them to follow, so they can say,‘this woman did her best.’ Making chocolate is for my children; it is for my freedom. This is my journey; I can’t stop.”

Instagram: Kalabari_gecko    Website: Kalabarigecko.com

*Photographs are the property of Princess Odiakosa, who kindly allowed me to use them for this article. Do not reproduce or copy without permission from Ms. Odiakosa.  All rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce  writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required

Olatoun Williams: Reviewer of African Literature and Founder of Borders Literature for All Nations

“Initiative needs well-being.” -Olatoun Williams

Olatoun, a real Yoruba woman off to a wedding (1)

I met Olatoun Williams at Felabration, an annual festival of music and arts commemorating Nigeria’s musical icon, Fela Anikulakpo Kuti.  We were there to attend the “The Fela Debates”: Movement of the People, The Fela & Bob Marley Perspectives (2013). Like most lectures, one remembers little but what is clearly vivid in my memory is Ms. Williams astute questions for the panel. She was the only person who delved into the subject of the debate with a balanced and studied comment as one would expect from a seasoned reviewer.

Ms. Williams is comfortable in the arena of debate as well as a literary reviewer. She promotes reading of African books on television, radio and on-line platforms. Her broadcasts span: Channels TV “Sunrise” and NTA 2 Channel 5, “AM Express”, “Close Flow”, “City Lace” and Smooth Radio’s “Smooth Review”. She was TV host at the 1st Nigerian Cultural Trade show held October 2nd 2014 and organised by the Nigerian German Business Association, AHK (Delegation of German Industry & Commerce in Nigeria), Goëthe Institute (German Cultural Centre) and the Consulate of Germany in Lagos.

From a young age, Ms. Williams loved reading; she loved books and let’s face it, one must read lots of books to be a reviewer of books. Although born in Lagos to a well-known Lagosian family, Oshikanlu-Williams, from the tender age of ten, she attended boarding school at Northwood College and then to Bristol University in Britain.

After her schooling and university in Britain, she returned to Nigeria where she struggled to find her place in the Lagosian society. She was a child of a teacher of history who rose up the ladder to have a distinguished career in Nigeria’s Federal Government, Dr. Abisola Oshikanlu-Williams, and father, Dr. Gabisiu Ayodele Williams, a physician and public health pioneer. Her ancestors were prominent textile merchants; and her well-known grandmother, Al Haja Dosunmu—Mama Gabi, who married three times, educated all her children and sent them abroad for higher education. It took Ms. Williams a while to find a sense of belonging but it came in 2003 when she became a mother at 35 and then, at age 38,  opened a foundation for children: Sponsor A Child Nigeria.

Olatoun's parents - Dr. (Mrs). Abisola Williams and Dr. Gabi Williams

Olatoun’s parents – Dr. (Mrs). Abisola Williams and Dr. Gabi Williams

(L) Dr. Gabi Williams, Federal Director, International Health and Disease Control (R) Late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Federal Minister of Health at a conference of the World Health

(L) Dr. Gabi Williams, Federal Director, International Health and Disease Control (R) Late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Federal Minister of Health at a conference of the World Health Organisation.

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Olatoun’s mother was variously Director -General at the Federal Ministries of Finance (Exchange Control), Police Affairs and Transport, Aviation & Communication. In this photo, she is presenting a paper to Nigeria’s President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (1985 – 1993)

My grandmother, generous, sociable and kind, Mama Gabi

Olatoun’s grandmother: generous, sociable and kind, Mama Gabi.

 

 

 

“I wanted to do something good with my life, I wanted to be useful. I felt I was just existed. It coincided with me becoming a Christian. (Of course, you don’t have to be a Christian to want to help others).  I joined a society in the church, Christian Circle, and we went to visit an orphanage, and I knew that this was where I wanted to give my focus. I went back the next week, got to know the staff and the children. I saw the kids had no focus and staff said they could not get sponsors to put kids in school so that is when it started, within 10 days I got sponsors for two children.

People are ready to overlook the fact that you don’t sound like them because I was giving back, I was giving value. Anything to do with advocacy, on television and media, helped me feel a sense of belonging that I never felt before. Life got better and better, my self-esteem increased, getting around Nigeria because of charity work. Getting out of myself. Initiative needs well-being. “

From the work that she did in educating children with Sponsor A Child Nigeria, she began to see a gap between literature and readership in Nigeria. As many publishers and book sellers know, what is lacking in African literature are readers. To bridge the gap between a plethora of literature and the reader, Ms. Williams took on the challenge “to promote the reading culture in Nigeria and promote the reading of African books worldwide.” To accomplish this goal, Ms. Williams founded Border Literature for All Nations. http://www.bordersliteratureonline.net

I asked Ms. Williams how she became interested in writing reviews as a profession.

“In university, I saw that my professors enjoyed listening to my reviews. I noticed they would put down their pen from marking and listen. I didn’t know at the time that a literary reviewer was what I was being called to do.”

The description of her instructors as intent listeners rings true when reading a book reviewed by Ms. Williams; prose flow and her passion is evident.  Her well-researched study explores the themes of a book, balanced and entertaining, as if she is discussing the book with her closest friend.

“No matter what the book is about, when I approach it, I look at principles, things I can take away from the themes that I want my readers to imbibe because it makes the world the kind of place I want to live in, which is the world dedicated to God’s principles: equity, justice, all those things, sharing, loving, inspiring, encouraging. When I am reviewing a book, I take from it those messages that I want to convey in my review: to have a greater understanding of one another, to have a far more generous perspective. I believe in a world that wants to understand, to have tolerance, and diversity. I would not bother to review a book that I could not share those values with people.”

Recently, Ms. Williams has been involved in yet another foundation: The Gabi Williams Alzheimer’s Foundation, the first foundation in West Africa to address Alzheimer’s disease. With the support of long-time friends such as, Buki Akintola and Fola Adeola, the Williams’s family celebrated the 80th birthday of Dr. Gabi Williams who had, in 2007, started to exhibit symptoms of memory loss. Now in the late stages of the Alzheimer’s disease, the family decided to launch a foundation in honour of Dr. Gabi Williams on his birthday, September 11, 2017. Read about their mission at: http://gabiwilliamsalzheimersfoundation.org and at https://guardian.ng/features/gabi-williams-set-to-launch-alzheimers-foundation/

The last time Ms. Williams and I got together in Lagos, we spoke about identity and belonging. She pulled from her handbag a favourite poem and read it to me:

Love after Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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  • Photographs are the property of Ms. Olatoun Williams, who kindly allowed me to use the photographs for this article. Do not reproduce or copy without permission from Ms. Williams. All rights reserved, copyright 2018 .To copy or re-produce  writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required.

Osogbo Revisited

Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 3.35.04 PMIn a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Robin and Hugh Campbell, caretakers of the Osun Osogbo Sacred Groves and board member of The Susanne Wenger Adunni Orishia Trust, sent me a message inquiring if I was in Lagos. “Yes,” I answered and soon another message arrived asking if I would like to join them on a two-day trip to Osogbo (Osun State, south west Nigeria but north of Lagos). The drive was my first thought…the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is notorious for excruciating delays. After talking with a friend who drives the road frequently, I was assured that most of the road, indeed, lived up to the name: “expressway,” and baring any accidents, the traffic flows fairly smoothly. My friend believed the drive from Lagos to Osogbo would be within a normal 4 to 5-hour range. So with that assurance, I accepted their kind invitation.

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After a few days with an early start, we headed for Osogbo. This would be my third visit to the area. The first was in 1977. Then, I met Susanne Wenger. In Lagos, there had been word of a white woman making sculptures that represented Yoruba traditional religion in an “enchanted” garden. A friend, Pam Fields, and I decided to make explore these claims. In those days, driving to Osogbo was by way of a two-lane road. Armed robbery was non-existent. The worse fear was to have a problem with the car and no way to communicate with Lagos except from a hotel phone. Then, the trip could not be completed in one day. Our trip would take us through Abeokuta to stop at the indigo dye pits and juju market, spend the night Ibadan and attend the theatre at University of Ibadan (at the time, well-known for its drama department). Then to Osogbo, Ile-Efe and spend another night in Ibadan. Needless to say, in those days, there was much advanced preparation for a Nigerian road-trip.

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Once Pam and I found the Groves in Osogbo, we were pointed in a particular direction toward the forest where we came across Susanne Wenger. We chatted for a short while and she directed us to the Osun River to follow a path that included several of her sculptures. Making our way back to the road, we did not meet Wenger again. I remember that we were unimpressed and disappointed but thirty-seven years later on my next trip to Osogbo, that was not the case.

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In 2014, I set out following the Campbell’s car; we had mobile phones, bottled water, air-conditioned 4-wheel drive vehicles and a paved four-lane road with a possibility to arrive in Osogbo within four hours! I fully documented that trip on February 2014 See: Òşun Sacred Grove and Forest, February 2014 and  Osun Osogbo Grove , Obelisque Magazine, January, 2015.

So it was on an impulse that I commenced on the third visit to Osogbo, forty years after my first visit:

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mosque on way to Osogbo

Nike’s Guesthouse is a hub for visitors to Osogbo:

 

Asking for blessings….shrines of Osogbo

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Olukun at Kasali, work-carver’s compound

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Ogun Shrine, God of Iron

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shrine for wood-carvers and blacksmiths

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Susanne Wenger mentorship in the 1960’s encouraged local artist such as Rabiu Abesu and Kasali Akangbe-Ogun.

Wood carvings, art from ancestors, the prolific wood-carver Rabiu Abesu (b. 1940) expresses vividness of beauty and power through inner revelations that finds it way from thought to reality on wood.

 

 

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Mask and sculpture above by Rabiu. Kiki in silhouette

Kasali Akangbe-Ogun (b. 1945) comes from a line of professional wood-carver. Internationally known,  his  sculptures reflect the intrinsic culture and emphasize symbols and figures of Yoruba gods. Akangbe Ogun’s  uses omo wood (similar to mahogany). The wood is cured for seven years.Deborah Bell explains in Mask Makers and Their Crafts that Akangbe Ogun, “cuts the trunk vertically in half. He began his carving by paying homage to his ancestors and other divinities. The completed carving would eventually take an oil polish that darkens the color and makes it termite-proof.”

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some wood carvings at Kasali’s workshop

 

Kasali Akangbe-Ogun’s workshop:

 

 

Fields of art – the Groves. Susanne Wenger’s work survives due to a host of hands that over sixty years have committed one thing or another to protect and promote sculpture in honor of Yoruba traditional religion. Robin and Hugh Campbell have been warriors in keeping this UNESCO Heritage site viable. They do the heavy lifting of promotion, protection, rehabilitation, organization, and fundraising. See their recent fundraiser, Save Our Art, November 2016.

 

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Toyin and I at entrance of the Groves

See Nigeria Magazine article by Susanne Wenger and meaning of her sculpture:

Susanne Wenger at 100  (1915-2009) Nigeria Magazine ,Gods and Myths in Susanne Wenger’s Art: The Example of Batik Cloth by Stanley P. Bohrer and Susanne Wenger Alarape Nigeria Magazine, 1976, Issue 120

(all rights reserved, copyright 2017 .To copy or re-produce photography and/or writings, written permission from Lesley Lababidi is required)

 

Roman Glass in Britain (and Bida)

Bangels poster v2Tatiana Ivleva (see Global Glass website)contacted me out of the blue! She came across my journey in Bida, Nigeria. I had traveled to Bida in 2015 specifically to see the glass and brass handmade crafts and techniques, read about:  Bida: Bangles and Beads. Somehow Tatiana came across my post and contacted me through my website, nomad4now.com. Tatiana explained that her research involved the ancient craft of glass bangles particularly seamless Romano-British bangles.  She was most interested in Nigeria’s glass making tradition as it was similar to the Roman techniques. Titiana inquired if she might use a part of my video in her research and in this exhibition. The following video was released for the exhibition: Fashion Frontiers Glass Bangles of Roman North. Tatiana explains the process:

To see the entire process of the ancient and traditional craft of bead and bangle production in Bida view the next video, parts of which have been included in the exhibition video:

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 that disagree and who have researched 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 their oral history 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.

Camel caravans from Kano and Timbuktu carried goods —indigo, salt, ivory, gold to name a few—for thousands of years that interconnected the world by the great trade routes. These historic caravans, particularly in the Sahara, Eurasia, and the Arabian peninsula were as much about trading as about communication. One of techniques communicated along the way was glass making.

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bracelets made in Bida, Nigeria using ancient glass making technique

Roman Finds Group (provides a forum in Roman artifacts.) Read about the exhibition at: http://www.romanfindsgroup.org.uk/exhibitions

During my journey along the Silk Road, I searched for evidence of glass making. Other than a reference in literature that ‘Arabs’ carried glass in caravans, I did not see evidence of ancient glass. Pottery shards and ceramic bowls were seen in museums as well as at archeological sites.  Glass would be difficult to transport, however,  why did the technique not travel into Central Asia? Or if it did why are there no surviving remnants of glass, glass making, or glass blowers?

Also see: Une Histoire de bracelets  https://archeoglass.jimdo.com