Yoruba heritage – Cultural narrative on batik

Sangodare Ajala

Initiation – Oro sise






Batik here is an amazing creation of Sangodare Ajala – Obatala and Sango priest was unveiled at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford by Prof Wole Soyinka 04 May.

The story of Yoruba initiation into Obatala priesthood – god of creation as well as that of Sango, god of Thunder was vividly told in this artwork. From the little child in the basinet being welcomed to the world through the rituals of esentanye while the whole village stood, with tilted heads towards the sky in unity pleading to the gods on behalf of the baby. According to Baba Ajala, initiation can be done at anytime during lifetime, giving everyone opportunity to connect spiritually.

Also visible from the painting were market women with their produce well-balanced on the heads as if on the way to the market – colourful outfits, chatting happily along. Men in their elaborate agbada outfits in mood for celebration of some sorts. I especially liked that the batik highlights so much of the beauties of Yoruba culture and traditions that is fast becoming obsolete in Yorubaland- the part where we unite to celebrate and rejoice in our shared heritage.

Here is the link to Prof Wole Soyinka unveiling – enjoy!

John Adeleke was spot on with his comments on the steep decline for Yoruba arts especially the ones that capture the rich heritage such as the work of Baba Ajala was partly due to new religions – Christianity and Islam. He continues that yoruba traditional religion is now seen as backward and stigmatised. This is especially true today that most people of my generation only heard bad things about our grandparents’ religion but no one has provided convincing reasons why this religion is so bad for us.

I can relate to this – in the 1980s in my town, we had annual seven-day festival that includes all major Yoruba deities. Most people in my town were either Christian or Muslim and yet lots of them gladly participated at the festival. We lived in the central part of the town and opposite a T junction so got to see most of the parades – this was the time when Yoruba collectively celebrate our similarities and rejoice in simple pleasures of life – belongingness without the drama.

Baba Ajala was very accommodating and answered my never-ending questions about his upbringing and relationship with the late Susanne Wenger – his interest in preserving Yoruba tradition is enduring.

Prof Wole Soyinka was pleased to unveil Baba Ajala’s batik, he spoke fondly of his talents and genuine interest in preserving the tradition through his artistic and traditional healing talents.

Professor Roy Westbrook, Deputy Dean of the Saïd Business School at the unveiling says the 9 by 25 feet artwork livens his mood as he enters into the building every morning since it was put up – the statement I found truly inspiring!

Why is it that our artistic talents especially the ones that celebrate our common heritage of Yoruba culture are more appreciated outside of the country than within?

Categories: Africa, Education, Nigeria

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16 replies

  1. I thought Batik was only native to our part of Asia. Great to learn new facts from you and now I know Batik is also available in Africa 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you learn something new.

      I think Suzanne Wenger, an Austrian who settled at Osogbo was the one who introduced painting on batik about 50 years ago, her hard work has paid off as Sangodare who was once her student now paints mainly on batik, so yes, it is our ‘thing’ too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely art work, it must be something.

    seeing its multiple tight coloring as displayed here, I couldn’t help wondering how really good it will look as a well sewn cloth (Buba/Wrapper/Head-tie) on a mildly dark, moderately fleshy curvy African woman. I know I will buy it, if they like the idea; MY IDEA O!

    Hmmmm…. FO, Imagine all the royalties!? (Ok, that’s the writer talking) LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is impressive.

      And yes, I am laughing – good idea, that is entrepreneur in you at work. It can be done if the design is replicated as ankara print, can see it being very popular especially for the details, texture would be lost but the design is pleasing enough. It will go well with agbada too, don’t you think?

      Having said that, I think the idea is to preserve the uniqueness – so no Owanbe idea! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I would like to go to the UNESCO site Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove mentioned in the video. It looks amazing.
    Why do we value something we have only when others point it out to us first? Human nature. Ukiyoe prints in Japan were used as wrapping paper for ceramics and it wasn’t until Europeans spotted them that the Japanese looked at them again as with a higher value as art again. I think people should fiercely hold onto their culture. Continue on the techniques of old so that we don’t forget. We have much to learn from those who went before us. Some things that are thought of as primitive turn out to be made with care and thought. Sometimes the reasons are hidden from us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you vontoast.

      You will love Osun-Osogbo site. Plan your trip to be around August, a few days before the festival to enjoy the area before the festival started.

      Here is a couple of photos of the Grove from my last visit: http://folakemiodoaje.com/2014/11/06/a-sliver-of-hope/

      While I don’t like blaming everything on religion, I think part of the reasons we have neglected all that is indigenous was because our fathers/mothers were made to believe that Christianity can not co-exist together with tradition values so in the process of embracing new religion we lost many things that defined us.


  4. Thanks for sharing this.

    Your question of why Yoruba art seems more appreciated outside than within Nigeria is food for thought and has been asked over and over for many years.

    A major reason I believe is that even the new artists with no renown or following have their work priced so stratospheric that many cannot afford them, especially when you think of the poverty of our people. In the late 60s which was when last my spouse and I dabbled into art purchases from some of the Osogbo Art Group, we were able to buy Jimoh Buraimo, Bisi Fabunmi and a few others from monthly salaries at the University of Ife – he as a senior member of staff and I as a secretary. That would not be possible today.

    Appreciating art which would lead to investment in it comes at a stage of development that I believe has been stunted by governance in Nigeria: a large growing middle class of the 50s and 60s that should have produced the upper middle class whose acquisition of refinement – pardon me – as well as a measure of disposable incomes from which properties like art can be acquired has been decimated by the corruption in Nigeria.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you.

      I agree with the high price tag.

      Twin 77’s wive (can’t remember her name now) has a very impressive gallery in Lekki Phase 2, some of the works on display are reasonably priced, I think.


      • Nike Okundaiye, who was once late Twin Seven-Seven’s wife, later got married to another guy, a non-Nigerian, many years ago; a product of the marriage is now an adult.

        Yeah, Nike Galleries at Osogbo (her starting point where she had trained (and met 7-7) under the Late Ulli Beier and his second wife, Georgina) and Lekki on the Ocean side outskirts of Lagos have price tags in the stratosphere! I visited the Osogbo gallery two years ago when one of our kids wanted some batik materials and also to look at art. By the way, my daughter informed me just a few weeks ago when I arrived here in the UK that she visited an exhibition or something like that and introduced herself to Nike whose next stop was Germany or so. With those kinds of bookings, she would not be affordable!

        When you are home, though, the Osogbo Gallery items are less expensive than Lagos.


        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, thank you! It was Nike.

          I had a good chat with her. She talked about her marriage to Twin 77 and the subsequent one to a Scot or was it Irish? And her golden children.

          Not too surprised she is in high demands, she is approachable and very passionate about African arts.

          Well the chat compensated for the fact that I didn’t purchase anything however, some pieces upstairs (not the ones on the wall) were not too bad price-wise.

          Will be visiting the Osogbo Gallery.


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