Training the craftman

Posted by on 12/17/2005 3:23:02 PM
Post Comment Training the craftman Nigeria

Like other cultures, African cultures have nourished very ancient tradition of artistic production entailing methods of transmitting skills from instructor to learner in order to maintain continuity of production, form and content. Several distinct but complementary forms of training have been in practice.

These include self-instruction through emula tion or what Nketia calls "slow absorption through exposure," (Nketia, 1973), formal training, apprenticeship and the guild system. Of these forms of training, the apprenticeship method where the learner is indentured to the master craftsman for an agreed period of time, is the most popular. In the olden days and even up till this time, children of craftsmen or women learn their parents' trade so that the knowledge and skill of the craft are handed down from father to son or from mother to daughter.

It is common nowadays, however, for a master craftsman to train apprentices who are no relations but the apprentices are usually required to render some services to the master in return for their training or pay an agreed fee. The training consists of observation, imitation and practice.

Of the many crafts for which Nigeria is well known, pottery, weaving, carving, leather work, are among the most widely distributed. Other important crafts include brasswork, embroidery and textile art. Unlike the ancient art, craft production is still actively pursued for it is a live art that is closely tied to the people's daily life.


It is widely practised in Nigeria and because of the numerous uses for pots, the art of pottery has no ethnic or regional distribution. As a vehicle for cooking, storage, coupled with its great advantage of being cheaply produced, pots of many kinds can be found in most homes, particularly among Nigerians who live in the rural communities.

The popularity of pots in the rural areas can be attributed to the fact that cooking pots can be used over wood fires, a common practice in places where there is neither electricity nor gas. The pottery industry has long been threatened by imported and locally manufactured enamel and plastic wares which have obvious advantages over locally made pots. All the same, there is reason to hope that it will survive in a rapidly changing society as more and more people will prefer hand crafted to machine made goods.


Three kinds of weaving, namely, textile, mat and cane, are actively practised in Nigeria. Textiles come in two varieties, the woven and the dyed. There are men and women weavers, the men using the horizontal, narrow-strip looms, the women the wide lomes to produce much wider pieces. Some of the most famous and expensive woven cloths are the Akwete, Okene and Aso Oke. In the fields of dyed textiles, the industry is located in the Western and Northern parts of the country. The Yoruba who inhabit the western part are experts in dyed textiles. They employ two produc tion methods, the tie and dye and a form of batik or 'resist' dyeing; in the latter method. Local cassava starch and stencils are the basic materials required.

The blue dye is obtained from a local shrub and dyeing is carried out in large pots. Abeokuta, lbadan, lfe and Oshogbo are well-known centres where women are busy turning out unique pieces that have become wearing apparel for all occa sions.

In the Northern part of Nigeria where a similar craft is practised by men, dyeing is carried out in open dye-pits, some of which are two to three metres deep. A local vegetable from which an indi go colour is extracted is employed as colouring agent.

Mat weaving is popular in the savannah region of Nigeria where the raw materials such as various kinds of grasses are available in large quantities. The finished products serve as seats, beds, carpets and screens. Other uses include hats, fan and other sundry items.

In the distant past, cane was used essentially to weave baskets. But, in recent times, cane furniture making has become a popular occupation and cane furniture such as chairs, tables, stools can now be found in the home of the rich.

Carving of different kinds exists, the most com mon being wood and calabash carving. Wood carv ing is mainly confined to the forest zone in the South, where varieties of wood suitable for carving are available in large quantities. Carved items such as door panels, stools, boxes, bowls are in great demand. Calabash carving is essentially a decorative craft which is popular in the North-Eastern and the South West; in the former, elaborate geometri cal designs are burnt on to the outer surface; in the latter, particularly in Oyo, calabashes are carved in geometric or zoomorphic patterns. Brasswork is of two varieties, one is beaten work and the other is cast in moulds. The brassworker painstakingly fashions his designs on small anvils, using a small hammer. Like most traditional craftsmen, no pre liminary sketches or drawings are made to guide the brassworker but the punching is so well handled that the patterns are remarkably accurate, precise and exciting. Beaten brasswork which is more common and widespread has its centres at Bida and Kano. The finished products consisting of trays, bowls, urns, bracelets and other objects are of considerable tourist attraction and it is not uncommon to find Hausa salesmen at airports, hotels and other tourist-centres where they sell their wares.

Although Nigerian crafts may appear to be localised, they are not yet necessarily departmentalised. Some overlap occurs every now and then. Nsugbe's observation on the distribution and identification of Nigerian crafts is pertinent when he writes "it was still possible not so long age to tell the tribe of a Nigerian by his costume. Today, it would seem easier to do this by his craft than by his dress. Change is breaking the clothes-barriers, but not yet those of crafts" (Nsugbe, 1962).

Nigerian traditional arts, particularly the ar of the past continue to enjoy a place of honour among other world masterpieces. The crafts are a living art, and as one of Nigeria's enduring legacies of a rich past, the fear that they may be displaced by machine-made wares is unfounded. The craftsman continues to demonstrate a high level of craftsman ship, the raw materials for his trade are in the main, locally sourced.

With trade liberalisation and an aggressive export promotion drive, as well as the local initiative provided by the annual Festival of the Arts and the Better Life programmes, which encourage and promote the production of local crafts, there is increasing demand for the craftsman's products. With such avenues open to him, he has been provided with the opportunity to sell his artistic products to ever expanding markets both at home and abroad.

The atmosphere is no doubt favourable for the art and crafts of Nigeria to survive and continue to serve as a link between the art of the past, the present and the probable future.

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