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, ùkárá cloth expresses the same vocabulary of Nsìbìdì signs. According to art historian Eli Bentor, “Mazi James Agasi [is] the most active Aro contractor of ukara cloth” (2015: 9).

The white cotton cloth is purchased in the market, and then Nsìbìdì (coded) designs are drawn on it. Raffia fiber threads are then stitched along the designs, and then the cloth is dyed 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 maintains his ùkárá cloth workshop 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 promoting him here so that perhaps he could become a full time cloth maker, and to train others.
Eli Bentor, “A Historical Understanding of Ukara Cloth.” Ukara: Ritual Cloth of the Ekpe Secret Society. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2015. pp. 5-9.
Cloth with Cuban Abakuá references

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