Last year, we wanted to educate our audience about the of the richness of African history by focusing on the ancient dyeing methods used in the Kofar Mata dye pits in Kano. What started of as a mission to educate our audience for Black History Month is now a blossoming relationship with the Kofar Mata community.
At the time, we wrote a blog post called The Dyeing Dye Pits of Kofar Mata where we delved into the history of these ancient dye pits that have existed for over 500 years and are now at risk of becoming extinct. (You can read more further by clicking the link).
We ended the article stating 4 ways we can support the Kofar Mata Dye Pits:
- SPREAD THE WORD!
- TAKE A TRIP!
- BUY THEIR FABRIC!
Many of you ran with these tips, by reposting and donating, so we wanted to share how the money has been spent and give an update on the community.
Before we visited the Kofar Mata Dye Pits, one of tips for how to support them is to take a visit. We wholeheartedly want to rescind that message! It has been advised by the government not to visit due to the instability of the region, although tourism is a key factor in the survival of the dye pits, we can confirm it is just not safe. Although when in the city of Kano and with the Kofar Mata Dye Pit Community, we felt safe, the journey by road was tumultuous and kidnapping is still a very present fear. We can not suggest anyone to make the journey, instead you should look at other ways you can support the community, such as spreading the word, donations and purchasing their fabric.
Our Journey to the Kofar Mata Dye Pits
During the months of January and February, we were in Abuja, Nigeria setting up our Kamso Studio. It had always been in our plans to visit the Kofar Mata Dye Pits in Kano, as I had spent so much time researching about its amazing history. We had also raised money to help their community through our dye pit collection and I wanted to see how it could be put to the best of use.
I enlisted a friend (Chinasa Chukwu, Founder of Weruzo) to go on this journey with me as she was in Abuja, sourcing for her business too. Due to us both being European born Nigerians, who had schooled only in the UK (me) and a mixture of the UK and Nigeria (Chinasa), we had a rose tinted vision of what this trip would look like. We made a plan to travel across Nigeria by train and road as we envisioned it be an adventurous road trip where we get to spend 4+ hours travelling through the Nigerian countryside. Despite, how idyllic it sounded, the reality of the journey was far from it and both our Nigerian parents (who live in Nigeria) made sure to tell us this! We could not be dissuaded from the dream we had conjured up, so our parents' next best plan was to join us and thank God they did!
We arrived with both our mothers, at Abuja train station bright and early ready for our "road-trip". The journey from Abuja to Kaduna via road is notoriously dangerous, as it is riddled with armed robbers and kidnappers, so people who can afford it, will take the train to the avoid the deadly route. It was day break, the air was crisp and the sky clear, the newly built train station looked beautiful as we boarded our train and began the 2 hour journey to Kaduna.
Once we arrived in Kaduna, we were collected by people we had arranged previously whilst in Abuja to drive us to Kano. After brief pleasantries, we quickly set off to Kano as we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us. I can categorically say, it was the scariest road journey of my life!! The rolling African savannah and deep red earth imagery was soon dashed, as I found myself clinging on for dear life. I discovered there were no speed limits that were adhered to on these motorways, a stark contrast to the driving I had experience in Abuja and the UK. You would find rickety vehicles, crammed with goods and bodies, zipping past you whilst avoiding potholes at the fastest speed they could muster. We were later told that it was more dangerous to drive slowly, as it makes it easier to ambush and kidnap unsuspecting travellers. To make matters worse, one side of the motorway was closed for maintenance, so we found ourselves weaving in and out of oncoming traffic at top speeds. It is safe to say, once I arrived in Kano, I immediately checked availability of flights back to Abuja. I felt I had narrowly escaped death once, I knew I could not take that risk again, but to my dismay, all flights for the next day were fully booked.
Aiding the Kofar Mata Dye Community.
We arrived at Kano around 2pm and went straight to the Kofar Mata dye pits, where we were met with a warm reception. We explained that we travelled to Kano specifically to visit the dye pits and to discuss the ways we could help whilst we were there. They let us know, one of the issues they face is their dwindling trade. A mixture of competition of cheap, poor quality fabric from China, instability of the region due to Boko Haram and the devastating effect of the Covid pandemic, meant they were struggling to sell their fabrics in great numbers. A solution we gave was to help sell their fabric directly to our customers, who we knew would love the opportunity to purchase their fabric, at the cost they were selling it. When they heard this, they all gathered around us in a circle with the fabric they had made and showed us all that was available. We took pictures for our audience to purchase at the prices they had set (at no profit to us) and went to our hotel, ready to return the next day with our orders.
When we were at the dye pits, we could see that the once majestic pits looked run down and dishevelled. Another one of the problems the Kofar Mata Dye Community face is the cost of opening and maintaining a dye pit. It takes around a month to make the indigo solution which the dyers can use for around a year to earn a living. However, many of the dyers share pits which slow down work rate, as a lot of the pits have fallen into disrepair due to financial constraints.
When we came back the next day we let them know the numbers of fabric that was required and they were all blown away. They had not expected there to be so many fabric purchases, so over the next two days they split the work between them and were hard at work to specially dye and fulfil the orders. Additionally we informed them that we had raised enough to open a new dye pit. The dyers, agreed amongst themselves, that a percentage of earnings from any fabric dyed in the donated dye pit, would go to the upkeep of the surroundings.
Thank you from Kamso and the Kofar Mata Dye Community.
Kamso wants to say a massive thank you for generosity to this community!
Each donation, purchase of clothing and/or fabric allows this ancient craft to be continued. Additionally, it supports this community in earning an honest living.
We at Kamso will continue to purchase fabric from the Kofar Mata Dye pits at their fair price for our Dye Pit Collection. We are also discussing how we can facilitate the purchase of their fabric to our customer, so we will be keeping you updated on this through our social media and email marketing.
We have left the ability to donate open, as any more money we receive will go towards the cost of replenishing solution for an existing dye pit and/or opening another dye pit next year. The picture below was inspired by Yusuf at the dye pit where all our hands are on top of each other like building blocks. It symbolises us building a greater future for us all and we absolutely loved it!
Here are more pictures from the trip: