Northern Nigerian ethnic groups have very different and fascinating traditional ways of life and doing business. But one thing that most of them seem to have in common is their flair for hand-embroidery.
From the Hausa to the Nupe, anything that can be machine-embroidered could be hand-embroidered, and with even more intricacy and beauty. These include the Babban Riga, traditional caps, and Shadda. Whether the material be silk or cotton, these embroiders have the skill to weave them into patterns on robes and Kaftans and even household objects.
The designs and stitches used in Babban Riga include chain stitch, buttonhole stitch, and rosette buttonhole stitch. In Bida, Niger State, they are done by young boys as young 15.
“I started learning it when I was 14,” Hassan, 18, told Folio Nigeria. “But I left the environment a year later and I haven’t been practicing ever since. My friends are now professionals.”
Most of these embroiders are found in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Tailors who sew Kaftans and Babban Riga do their part with the sewing and then contract or collaborate with hand embroiders to design patterns on them.
Up until 1970, only men practiced this art. But eventually, women began to participate as a result of the high demand and limited supply. They would get the sewn Babban Riga and Kaftan from tailors, embroider them, and then deliver them to the tailors who then sell and give them their percentage.
Several support groups and programs have sprung up for practitioners of this art, to provide them with materials and resources. The Queen Amina Embroidery, for example, was formed as far back as 1994 in Zaria, and is made up of women. The group, according to historical accounts, only consisted of about 15 embroiders initially. But now this number has been increasing. They have exhibited their work all over the world, from Mexico to the USA.
According to Bala, an embroider based in Bida, Niger State, embroidering a cap or Babban Riga can take from three days to a week, depending on the complexity of the patterns being sewn.
“Unless I willingly want to waste time on it,” he said.