After the month of Ramadan, fasting from sunrise to sunset, Muslims around the world celebrate the ‘Feast of Breaking the Fast” – Eid el-Fitr. In northern Nigeria, some Hausa, Fulani and Nupe cities will celebrate with an equestrian festival known as the Durbar. The festival begins with prayers of thankfulness for completing Ramadan and prayers to see the next Ramadan, prayers for the community, the leaders, and the country. In Bida, His Royal Highness Alhaji (Dr) Yahaya Abubakar, ETSU NUPE, will preside over the festivities. Watch this space for the unfolding events!
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
Leave something of sweetness and substance in the mouth of the world.
–Anna Belle Kaufman
His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr.) Yahaya Abubakar CFR, ETSU NUPE, Chairman of the Niger State Council of Traditional Rulers bestowed on me a great honour in his telephone call to congratulate me for the six years of research and promoting crafts in Bida, Nigeria, that helped to highlight the crafts and folk art in Nupeland.
From 2015, my journeys to Bida began as a broad interest in material culture and blogging about the experience to researcher of Nupe heritage, particularly, the study of glassmaking. All of which evolved into becoming an honorary member of the Masaga glassmaking community.
These rich and rewarding journeys culminated in the month of November 2019, during the completion of the documentary, The Lost Legacy of Bida Bikini, and the honoured title of Jikadiyan Gargagiya, Ambassador of Nupe Traditions from His Royal Highness.
Watch The Lost Legacy of Bida Bikini , hosted by British Museum
The documentary can be found on the repository here: https://drs.britishmuseum.org/articles/media/Lost_legacy_of_Bida_Bikini/14535420
and on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTRxORja4Ik&t=1s
Articles and posts can be found throughout my website. Here are a few posts:
Indigo and the Durbar
Instragram: bida_glassmakers or https://www.instagram.com/bida_glassmakers/?hl=en
Olatoun Williams, founder of Borders Literature for All Nations, is one of those rare individuals who comes into your life and stays. Her friendship is unwavering, her support is steadfast, and her love is encompassing. Olatoun is a gatherer of knowledge and shares these gems to the world. But, her passion is literature and her commitment is to promote reading in Nigeria, regionally, and Africa, broadly. Take a look at her website, there are interviews, podcasts, book reviews to name a few. The literature selected is as diverse in subject as the authors who tell them. My story is one of the first to have been featured under Africanist Global category, which has been updated recently. I am humbled to have a place among such distinguished honourees.
Olatoun’s voice champions African literature. Borders Literature for all Nations is the founder of the Borders SDG Book Club and in addition, a founding partner of the African Chapter of the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter.
The British Museum Endangered Material Knowledge Programme hosts the documentary. https://drs.britishmuseum.org/articles/media/Lost_legacy_of_Bida_Bikini/14535420
and on YouTube:
Comments are most welcome!
November 25, 2019: The final day of filming about the story of the lost heritage of Masagá glassmakers. Front row: Singing Tree Film crew. Second row: to the right and left of the HRH Etsu Nupe, Masagá glassmakers.
The delayed production of the film took its toll on everyone. Two elderly glassmakers died during the year 2020. With great sadness, they will not see themselves in the documentary. However…against all odds, the documentary will be released mid-April 2021.
December, 28, 2020 Approximately 50 years old
It has been over two weeks. Coming to grips with the senseless event that took place on the afternoon of December 28, 2020 in Bida, Nigeria has taken time to process. Abdullahi (Allah yar harmu) sat outside of his workshop, as he does every day, when a motorcycle jumped the curb and struck him. He was killed instantly. This random, tragic event brought acute sadness not only because of life’s cruel twist but also because Abduallahi was the star of the soon to be released documentary, “The Lost Legacy of Bida Bikini”, filmed in 2019. Because of the pandemic and other delays, Abdullahi would never see his work and accomplishments on the screen. To snatch this joy away from a man who toiled from childhood to eke out a living by making glass beads and bracelets is a cruel end.
This video is of Abdullahi making one bead. (Other craftsmen are Alhaji Abass Umaru, Nda Umaru Azumi, and Abdullahi’s son operates the bellows.)
I first met Abdullahi in 2015 in Bida at his workshop where he and other Masaga craftsmen spent every day in front of a mud furnace fuelled by forest wood. The heat in the workshop can be 43 degrees Centigrade and above, particularly during the dry season. Yet every day they are seated around the furnace twisting iron rods making glass beads and bangles. Producing glass objects are crafted everyday; the craft their fathers and grandfathers taught; the techniques conveyed by their ancestors from Egypt.
Every year for six years, I journeyed to Bida to research and document the glass heritage of the Masaga community in Nupeland. I learned from Abullahi and the craftsmen. In September 2019, I received permission from the Etsu of Nupeland and the Masaga guild to film a documentary about the lost art of making raw glass. It was during the month of filming that Abdullahi’s character and gift for acting developed within the first days. Our film director, Remi Vaughan-Richards, commented that Abdullahi didn’t shy from the camera and was the person she chose to lead the others. We would tease Abdullahi that he had found a new calling and would soon be well known throughout Nigeria. He would beam with pride.
I hope that when the documentary is released that anyone who is reading this obituary will take the time to watch it. Abdullahi stars in it! Please email me if you are interested in receiving the link of the documentary at its release.
All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the permission of Lesley Lababidi 2021.
The late Shaba Nupe (Allah yar harmu) was the second in command (meaning Shaba) to the current ETSU NUPE, Alhaji Dr. Yahaya Abubakar CFR (here). Shaba Nupe was the crown prince of the Emirate, the maternal uncle to the ETSU NUPE.
On November 7, 2019, before filming the documentary about the Masaga Glassmakers of Bida was set to launch, Shaba Nupe was one of the members of the royal family that I visited to ask for his blessings. He granted his blessing for the documentary to commence and wished me and the project a good outcome.
We pray Allah to grant him Mercy and Aljannah Fridaus.
Alhji Mohammed Abubakar, Allah Yar Hamu- May his soul rest in peace, passed away a few days ago in Bida, Nigeria. He was a small man with kind, steadfast eyes. He had a tribal scar on both sides of his face and carried a brass kettle filled with kola nuts that would be distributed throughout the day.
I knew him for only a few hours that day. He took his position near my side in confidence and pride. I depended on him. That afternoon when we stood together to take a photo, I knew we would never meet again. Today, when I heard of his death, I remember Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar in deep gratitude for his presence.
With gratitude to Dr. Abidemi Babatunde Babalola whose EMKP grant gave the opportunity for me to showcase an element of the Masaga glassmakers’s story. Dr. Babalola took my project under his wing and along with his archaeological work in southern Nigeria, we collaborated on this article, “Rituals, Religious practices, and glass/glassbead making in Ile-Ife and Bida, Nigeria”. Read the article HERE.
EMKP-British Museum, HERE