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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Kofar Mata Dye Pits, Kano, Nigeria

Roadside market stalls

Our journey to get to the Kofar Dye Pits which was established in 1498 and said to be the oldest in Africa, was an adventure in itself. We carefully edged our way along the very busy streets past the different markets and onwards passing the main market place with Mr Gambo driving. Without him, we would have been stuck in a potential drivers nightmare. Cars, buses, Okadas, people, donkeys and carts weaved their way along the narrow road passing the many stalls full of people buying their goods on the way.

Entrance to the main market
The stalls sell everything from household goods to freshly killed meat. The barrow above is selling home made soap. Behind that pots and pans and materials. The stalls on the left were a mix up of everything imaginable.

For over 500 years, the dyers of Kano have crouched down over circular pits. Now more than 100 pits have fallen into disrepair and many of them were full of stones and refuse.

View over some of the Dye Pits
We were taken over to one dye pit where a lone older man crouched down ready to show us his art. First we were made aware of the customary 'dash', meaning a quaint custom of expressing gratitude in anticipation of services about to be rendered. We let them know we were good for the 'dash'. Our guide went on to explain that every person working in the Kofar Pits inherited his place from their fathers and passed on from one generation to the next.

Dye Pit worker
The dying process has not changed in centuries. Water and ash give it its glaze and is mixed with potassium to fix the colour. Finally, dried indigo twigs are added and the whole mixture is left fermenting in a six-metre deep pit for four weeks. The material is dipped in the dye for 30 minutes to 6 hours with the material lifted from the dye at regular intervals to allow atmospheric oxygen to react with the mixture and to fix it to the material. The duration of the dying differs according to the colour desired.

For the last part of the production, we were taken over to a very small building with hammering noises coming from within. This is known as the ironing room. There were some younger men sat on the floor pounding the cloth with a large wooden club like hammer. They sat on the floor opposite each other with a wooden platform in-between them to provide an 'ironing' surface. The dyed clothes were placed on them and the hitting began. We were each lucky enough to have a go at this process of beating the clothe, the mallets were heavy. This process would continue until the clothe becomes fine and soft.

We now have beautiful table clothes and two t-shirts from the Kofar Dye Pits. We would recommend visiting here if you are ever in Kano.
Finished table clothes and t-shirts

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