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Object Timeline

-0001

1960

  • Work on this object began.

1967

  • Work on this object ended.

2007

  • We acquired this object.

2015

2019

  • You found it!

Wrapper (Nigeria), 1960–67

This is a Wrapper. It is dated 1960–67 and we acquired it in 2007. Its medium is cotton, rayon and its technique is hand-loomed plain weave with supplementary weft patterning. It is a part of the Textiles department.

The unique weavings of Akwete women are admired throughout western Africa. Akwete cloth is woven exclusively by women in the village of Akwete, in Igboland in southeastern Nigeria. Today the location is somewhat remote, but in the late 19th century it was an important stop on the slave and palm-oil trading routes from the interior to the port cities of Opobo and Port Harcourt, where textiles were a valued trade item.

While men in Nigeria weave on a narrow horizontal loom, the women’s loom is a simple vertical frame placed upright against the wall. An adult woman’s weaving is usually 40- to 50-inches-wide, while a young girl may begin weaving on a narrower loom, 15- to 30-inches-wide, until her arms grow long enough to span a full-sized loom. The warp is continuous, wound repeatedly over the top beam and under the bottom beam. This continuous warp system causes the textile to grow narrower at one end, as the warps come under increasing tension during the weaving. While this is considered an unavoidable technical flaw, it also helps to distinguish hand-woven pieces from machine made imitations.
The ground cloth is typically of fine imported cotton, while the supplementary pattern wefts can be cotton or loosely twisted silk or rayon. The style is typified by geometric patterns in bands of varying widths, the most significant of which is a lozenge form called ikaki, or tortoise, which was formerly the symbol of the royal family. The panels are generally woven in matching pairs approximately 65 inches in length, because they are always worn in pairs: one wrapped around the hips and the other at the waist. Traditionally, the breast was adorned only with jewelry, but over the past decades women have gradually begun wearing European-style blouses in white lace or printed cotton.

This piece was commissioned in Enugu, Nigeria, between 1960 and 1967, after Nigeria won independence from Great Britain but before the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War (also known as the Biafran War). During this brief period, there was a celebratory resurgence of interest in traditional weaving, which resulted in the production of pieces of very high value and quality, such as this. This piece also shows all of the hallmarks of traditional Akwete weaving: a narrowing at one end caused by the continuous-warp technique and an iridescent ground color created by using two different colors in the warp and weft (in this case, a maroon warp and a bright blue weft combine for a strong violet effect). The abundant patterning includes traditional snake, tortoise, and lizard patterns in glossy gold rayon thread. While Akwete cloth is still produced today, the quality has declined substantially, and contemporary pieces are often made in garishly-colored rayon, with fewer pattern bands and less technically-difficult patterns.

This object was donated by Chinyere Okoronkwo. It is credited Gift of Chinyere Okoronkwo.

Its dimensions are

H x W: 174 x 130.2 cm (68 1/2 x 51 1/4 in.)

Cite this object as

Wrapper (Nigeria), 1960–67; cotton, rayon; H x W: 174 x 130.2 cm (68 1/2 x 51 1/4 in.); Gift of Chinyere Okoronkwo; 2007-49-2

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://www-6.collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18710399/ |title=Wrapper (Nigeria), 1960–67 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=21 August 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>