Ukara cloth

Ukara cloth
Ukara cloth detail, Etara community, Cross River State, Nigeria

James O. Agasi — Ùkárá cloth

James Agasi (right) displays an Ùkárá cloth at his workshop
James Okafor Agasi was born in 1947 in Asaga village, Arochukwu. He is currently a trader at Nkalagu junction village, in Ebonyi State Nigeria. Ùkárá cloth making is a part-time business that he learned from his father, Agasi Okoro. Ùkárá cloth is used exclusively by Ékpè members, and wherever there is Ékpè practice in Nigeria and Cameroon, this cloth is known as Ùkárá, and it expresses the same vocabulary of Nsìbìdì signs.

James first buys the white cotton cloth in the market, and then draws the Nsìbìdì (coded) designs on it. He uses raffia thread to stitch the designs, and then dyes the cloth in indigo.
The cotton cloth is stitched and ready to be dyed

Ùkárá cloth is sold in markets in Ohafia, Umuahia, Abiriba, Aro, Aba and in Calabar, but all this cloth is created in Nkalagu junction village. Formerly, were three producers of Ùkárá in Nkalagu, but the others passed away, and their children abandoned this practice because it is not lucrative enough.

James makes Ùkárá cloth in Nkalagu because the ingredients are there. They include a tree called Ókwè, the ashes of which are used in the dying process as a mordant to fix the dye. James may be the last expert of Ùkárá cloth in southeast Nigeria. We are encouraging and promoting him to become a full time cloth maker, and to train others.
A finished loincloth, ready for market
While the codes are widely used, each cloth is unique

This long cloth decorates an Ékpè assembly hall

Right detail of large cloth above

Middle section of large cloth above

Left section of large cloth above