By Maria Famakinwa
The original idea of aso-ebi was for the easy identification of family members during a landmark event. It was also meant to serve as a means of reinforcing social identity and solidarity among group members.
‘Aso ebi’, usually worn by well-wishers at ceremonies, has in contemporary time become the gate pass to social events such as weddings, burials, harvests, ordination of religious leaders, political rallies and campaigns in Nigeria. It gives a sense of belonging to those who wear it during the events. It equally makes the celebrant feel loved and important. The prices of these fabrics range from N5000 per pack to N150,000, depending on the class, status, and taste of the celebrant.
They are mostly sewn in native blouse and wrapper/skirt or gown for women and native shirt and trousers/wrapper and even `agbada’ for men.
However, it seems the use of aso-ebi has deviated from its original purpose of love, support and solidarity for celebrants. The interpretations giving to aso-ebi seem to be posing serious threats to guests who fail to wear them to the expected occasion, going by the attitudes of some celebrants. Happenings revealed that the idea behind wearing aso-ebi these days has gone beyond friendship as some celebrants frown at guests who fail to wear it despite the fact that it is not mandatory. Recently, a lady sadly expressed that she was looking forward to a friend’s wedding; however, the condition for the invite was to buy aso-ebi. She lamented that she could not afford it due to other financial commitments.
The one that has attracted more attention and condemnation was a case of Nigerian woman, Mrs Oluwatoyin Bucknor, who celebrated her 70th birthday in UK. The woman, in a clip which has been shared multiple times on social media, held the microphone and said, “Anyone who wrote his or her name but did not buy clothes should go out. If you are here and you didn’t wear my aso-ebi, I beg you in the name of God to leave the party if you pray to turn 70 years. But, If the person doesn’t want to get to 70 years let him or her remain on the seat. Anyone that did not buy my clothes, I am speaking from a place of anger, if you eat the food, it will choke you. If you don’t go out, I’ll help you out myself. Don’t provoke me.”
When Mrs Bucknor realized that her outburst infuriated several guests who got up and left the party, she retracted her words and pleaded for forgiveness. “Please forgive me. Nothing will happen to you and your children. You’ll turn 70. You’ll turn 80 and even 100. The rest is left to God. You know, after anger, one will calm down. The party came with a lot of stress. I turned some people back but there were some people that insisted on entering despite the rules, that is why I got angry.”
An artisan, Mr Mukaila Omoleso, who condemned the idea of compelling guests to buy aso-ebi, revealed that such an idea is most common in South West, particular Oyo State where he came from to the extent that some parents neglect payment of their children school fees to buy aso-ebi that is meant for just an occasion.
His words: “People have gone into debt by borrowing money to pay for aso-ebi. Others have used money meant for more important projects (family upkeep, tuition, medical bills, etc.), while some have caused a rift in their marriages by compelling their spouse(s) to buy aso-ebi for them. Nowadays, most celebrants see aso-ebi as a way to milk their guests. They sell it at an outrageous price, far more expensive than the retail price. To the celebrants, it is a means of raising funds for a flamboyant ceremony. Most people buy these materials in order not to offend their friends, while some buy them to escape victimisation.
“Some people also buy it not to be left out or suffer any form of discrimination at the event. This is because sometimes guests who are not wearing aso-ebi are often treated differently at such events. Souvenirs are reserved for the aso-ebi people, and sometimes food is first served to them. It doesn’t matter whether the person who didn’t buy aso-ebi brought an expensive gift for the celebrant. For me, I cannot buy aso-ebi at the expense of my family needs and nobody can force me to do that. Sincerely speaking, the video of the woman who cursed guests who didn’t wear her aso-ebi in UK pointed to the fact that there is more to aso-ebi than meet the eyes.”
Sharing a similar view, a civil servant, Mrs Abolaji Olusesan, who also advised people against wearing aso-ebi said that the viral video of a woman who cursed her guests for failure to wear aso-ebi to her party has made her more skeptical about the whole idea of buying aso-ebi. She observed that aso-ebi rather than unifying the family members or friends as claimed by many is now an instrument of separation, due largely to the exorbitant costs of the materials. She added that debts, are often incurred by some of the women who could not afford the materials, and in some cases, humiliation, and unnecessary embarrassment are meted to those who go for the cheaper fabrics.
Her words: “Aso-ebi has created a world of jealousy or superiority complex as some women try to out-shine others in the expensive styles sewn, in addition to the complementary shoes, bags, jewelries as well as make-up that goes along with it. Presently, most women are compelled to patronize aso-ebi, as it appears to be the ticket to such social gatherings. Where it becomes impossible to procure the aso-ebi materials, conflicts and quarrels (cold war), more often than not, brew and keep rising. This has become the order of the day. In some cases, it is among couples and at other times, between celebrants and invitees. As we speak, there are some families, siblings, friends, whose relationships have gone sore because of inability to buy aso-ebi. It can be necessary but not compulsory. Besides, the economic situation in the country does not give room for buying aso-ebi. Making aso-ebi a gate pass to an event is suspicious and I cannot attend such, though I buy the clothes,” she said.
Speaking differently, a trader, Mrs Adenike Olamoore, explained that aso-ebi is a show of support, solidarity and expression of love to the celebrant and insisted that it has come to stay. “Wearing aso-ebi to social functions are usually believed to have directly or indirectly contributed to the success of such functions. It adds beauty, colour, glamour and grandeur to events. If you are determined to identify with a celebrator, you won’t mind the quality or market value of the fabric because you are doing it for love sake.
“Adorning aso-ebi to social gatherings depends on the relationship between the guests and the celebrant. That is why most guests purchase aso ebi and appear in them on the day of the events, whether convenient or not, just to fulfill all righteousness, since they are not likely to wear them after that day.
Personally, when I attend a party in aso ebi, it increases my confidence. I don’t feel like an outcast or someone who does not want to support her friend or family member. Aside this, aso-ebi is another way to promote our culture and showcase our national identity through different styles that our native attires can be fashioned into.
“Aso-ebi has come to stay because it promotes love and support for the celebrants, but I will never support the idea of cursing those who attend your party in another uniform or embarrass them into leaving the party. It is another way of telling your guests that the party was organised to make profit through the aso-ebi. There are some guests who buy aso-ebi but cannot wear it to the particular occasion because the tailor given the clothes to sew disappointed them. You should consider yourself lucky when people attend your party and thank them for coming instead of cursing them,” she said.