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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Agbada Holds its Own in Nigeria

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

If you've never understood what the cliché "standing out from the crowd" means, tonight you'll understand before I'm done telling you about agbada.

The finest fashion designs from the West, especially tuxedos and other suits, have infiltrated Africa and taken the place of previously respected traditional garments. But in Africa's most populous country with a population of over 150 million people, agbada has refused to back down, and remains a status symbol especially among the Yoruba people of western Nigeria, who comprise 21 percent of its population.

A gushing piece of clothing that goes all the way to the ground, agbada is wide shouldered and comes with a V-neck and arms so long they must be gathered into folds when worn. The usually colorfully embroidered outfit is made, along with a pair of wide-waisted trousers called sokoto, from traditional material of silken texture called sanyan with a round cap, fila, to complete the package.

It can also be made from pure cotton or guinea cloth at its simplest, all the way to complex lacy designs of interwoven shapes, according to Bakare Weate, a popular blog ( The article further notes: "When made of lace, the complex of folds played out across a material complex creates a phenomenal moving sculpture, a meringue of elaborate confectionery, a soft architecture which points the way towards a post-post modern theory of building, taking the fold beyond the fold.

If you want to watch agbadas of all modes, attend any important occasion in Nigeria. Not only does it symbolize power and wealth, it's also said to embody "the unique character of African masculinity."  Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was known to flaunt a new agbada on all state functions, and a typical Nigerian movie (the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is the world's second largest film industry) would be incomplete without an agbada-clad chief for a protagonist.

"In the olden days, only the rich and powerful could afford the material but times have changed," says Emanuel Idowu Adeniyi, a Yoruba journalist who loves wearing agbada. "Besides the beauty it adds to a person, many wear it as a way of projecting the rich cultural heritage of the Yoruba people. There's no way you can show how rich your culture is if you don't portray it through the food you eat, through the language you speak and through the clothes you put on. Agbada to Yoruba people is a way of showing how rich our culture is."

So if you you're a visitor to West Africa, particularly Nigeria, and want to earn favor, friendship or respect; if you want to attract the hottest beauty queen there or you just want "to stand out from the crowd", agbada is the way to go!

--First published on WJI Times Observer online on Saturday January 28, 2012