Black History Month is a great time to delve into the rich history of the African diaspora. There are many worthy stories to be told beyond the sorrowful tales of slavery and colonisation, one of which are the historic dye pits in Northern Nigeria. The Kofar Mata Dye Pits have had prominence across the world spanning 5 centuries and are still active, however this ancient craft is in jeopardy in these modern times.
History of Kofar Mata
Founded in 1498, the Kofar Mata Dye Pits located in Kano, Nigeria are said to be the oldest in Africa and the last of their kind. In its prime, Kano had about 270 dye pits and the indigo dyed cotton was famous in the trans - Saharan trade. Many travelled from far and wide to buy this dyed fabric and it was the backbone of the states economy rivallung the fabled riches of Timbuktu.
The Tuareg of Mali are known as the blue men of the desert, because of their billowing indigo robes. They are good customers to the Kofar Mata dye pits as this is where many purchase the fabric, specially left natural, to dye their face and hands blue.
The dyers refuse to use artificial dye which would give them a range of colours and allow them to keep up with modern demand. Their dedication in honouring this medieval dying practice makes each item produced even more special.
Only 3 natural ingredients are used to make the dye solution; Indigo plant twigs, ash from burnt firewood and potash (potassium) made freshly at the dye pits. All the ingredients and equipment used are locally obtained and constructed.
It takes around a month to make the solution which lasts for around a year. Many believe the solution has medicinal properties and it is sometimes used for traditional remedies.
The techniques used at the Kofar Mata dye pits have not evolved with time, the dying practices have remained the same for centuries. It has been passed on from generation to generation with some dyers being the 10th generation of dyers in their family.
The running costs of the pits are minimal as electricity is not required, however the cost of one solution is around $300, a large sum for the dyers, now demand for the fabric is dwindling.
Beautiful patterns can be created before the fabric is dipped in the dye solution. The designers, who are typically women, decorate the cloth with one of 10 patterns, some regular and others royal, by intricately weaving string around the cloth.
The royal design is the most difficult, it takes two weeks to make and if there is a mistake the whole design is ruined.
The risks of the dye pits becoming extinct has never been higher. There has been an influx of cheap foreign fabric (especially from China) into the Nigerian market. Additionally many foreign governments have issued travel warnings against visiting Northern Nigeria due to the Boko Haram insurgency. A large portion of the dyers sales come from tourist trade.
Due to the dwindling demand more than 100 pits have fallen into disrepair and many of them are clogged with refuse and stones. The practice is being passed to the next generation at a slower rate as many are looking for more lucrative ways to earn money.
If demand does not increase, before long these dye pits will be extinct.
What can we do?
There are several ways we can support the Kofar Mata Dye Pits:
- SPREAD THE WORD!
Tell all you know, what you have learnt about this beautiful, ancient practice. Teach your children and keep the knowledge of these dye pits alive. The more who know, the better!
- TAKE A TRIP!
At the moment, it is advised by many governments not to travel to this region, which is unfortunate as tourism is a key factor in the survival of these dye pits.
We, however, are looking into reputable methods to visit in a safe way when in Nigeria and will keep you updated with information as to how to visit.
- BUY THEIR FABRIC!
We will be going to the Kofar Mata Dye Pits early next year, when there we will be looking at the best ways to connect the dyers directly to the outside customers.
In the meantime Kamso will continue to support the dye pits by dying our cotton with the Kofar Mata dyers at the fair price they state.
We aim for you to be able to purchase the dye pit collection throughout the year, by purchasing these items, you directly support the dyers at the Kofar Mata dye pits.
Currently there are no charities that we know of who directly supports the Kofar Mata dye pits, so Kamso is starting a fund to aid the dyers at these pits.
We will be visiting early next year to ensure our support and donations are received by the dyers to help this ancient practice alive. The fund will remain open until then.
You may donate below via:
- Our PayPal - Click Here