Accepted Paper:

Reflections on resplendence: the importance and usage of light as status-enhancement among the Yoruba of western Nigeria  


Eni Bankole-Race (Royal College of Art)

Paper short abstract:

An attempt to articulate the aesthetic symbolism inherent in the usage of light as a status-enhancing cultural artefact traditionally and in contemporary customs among the Yoruba of Nigeria,drawing on the extensive vocabulary describing the myriad ways which light is manifested and experienced.

Paper long abstract:

African cloth has an inherent aesthetic in its symbolic usage, motifs, colours, and even in the message cloth "speaks". (Omatseye & Emeriewen,2012)

O ja'de s'ojude Oba, mono-mono ko… (… his/her appearance at the royal court was like lightning, flashing…)

This paper examines the use of light in the traditional and ceremonial dress of the Yoruba . From the fluid equiluminescence of floating patterns in strip-woven textiles like Aso-Oke to the monochromatic play of dark/light of Adire and Kampala. Investigating the phenomenon of 'beaten cloth' among other enhancement practices, it will explore how aesthetic sensibilities and cultural values govern understanding and usage of what is an intangible sensory experience, and the various attempts to harness this intangibility into a prism, reflecting the resplendence of the wearer in order to achieve their cynosural objective - actually dazzling the senses of onlookers, establishing their status as 'beyond the ordinary'.

In traditional Yoruba culture, status was conveyed by more than mere economic prowess - standing in the community was also reinforced by one's wardrobe, especially on formal or ceremonial occasions. The appropriate clothes, made from fitting prestige textiles and augmented in the appropriate manner,were indications that the presenting grandeur was more than skin-deep (Bankole-Race, 2009).

Status was therefore inextricably interwoven with clothing,attire often literally reflecting societal standing within the community.

'…cloth in this context is a wordless means of communication that is well understood by those who use it'. (ibid,2012)

Panel P35
Light as material culture, experience and practice