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About Us

Akwete is a town in Nigeria of about 58,865 people with in an area of 280 km² (2006 Census Figures). It is surrounded by several other villages of the clan of people called the "Ndokis". The Ndokis then joined with another clan of people called the "Asa" to form a bigger entity called Ukwa.

Akwete is strategically located on the southward bank of the Imo River, historically noted for its role as a major last mainland bank of export for slaves from the eastern region of Nigeria from whence they were transported by the river to ocean vessels that transported them to Europe, Asia and other Western countries that traded on slaves used for manual labor. In the same token, Akwete (rightfully so) became the embankment point from whence many European Abolitionists of slave trade penetrated the mainland of Nigeria's eastern region to stop the slave trade.

It is strategically located equidistant between the economically oil rich capital city of Port-Harcourt, Rivers state and the commercially vibrant nerve center of Aba, Abia State. Most of Akwete's early ancestors came from the islands of the Rivers State- Opobo, Bonny, etc. and settled in the mainland. Being surrounded by water the people are traditionally fishermen who have a "pact with the waters" as a source of making a livelihood. The men fish while the women weave cloths. The uniqueness of the cloths came to earn the "Akwete cloth" (as it is called) world and international acclaim. It is a work of art and beauty to behold.

Akwete cloth as it is rightly named is a hand woven cloth produced by the people of Akwete – Ndoki in Abia State of Nigeria. Although some other communities around the region so participate in this craft of cloth weaving, but Akwete is the most renowned of these weaving communities. Its cloth is highly reputed for excellence that the name of the town was given to all textiles produced in the area. Akwete cloth is woven entirely from cotton, in a continuous warp, and supplementary weft patterning by women using the broad vertical loom. Historically, hand spun cotton was the most common material used in the cloth but modern weavers both women and men use machine-produced cotton yarns and silken rayon threads of various colors from textile mills in Nigeria and abroad.

The acclaimed pioneer of the highly ornamented intricate weft patterns on Akwete cloth is Dada Nwakata, who used imported cotton and silk (probably rayon) yarns. Distinguished Igbo historian A. E. Afigbo (1985) presents the local history that Dada Nwakata unravelled threads from an open woven cotton cloth locally known as acham, brought to the area through trade with the potoki (Portuguese) sometime between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries when the latter operated in the Bight of Biafra. After studying the weave structures of the heavily ornamented cloth, Dada Nwakata copied them and secretly began to weave a new style of Akwete designs. The style of her weave structures were revealed after her death by a deaf and dumb friend who was the only person she permitted in her company when she wove her cloths.

Akwete cloths are now produced in a diverse range of patterns ranging from plain stripped ones to profusely patterned cloths, replete with geometrical motifs such as the lozenges, domestic animals, ikaki (tortoise--symbol of cunning and wisdom), and ritual objects and symbols. Modern designs also include the Nigerian coat of arms, Nigerian flag, the logo of FESTAC (the 2nd All Black Festival of the Arts held in Nigeria in 1977), air condition, nna dede (Dede's father), and nnunu (bird) (see photo gallery of Akwete Cloth). Akwete weavers are versatile and adaptable to modern influences, incorporating new motifs as designs in their cloths

The modern Akwete broad loom is locally called nkwe. It is a simple rectangular frame with two horizontal posts serving as the warp and cloth beams. Traditionally a flywheel called ngarangara, is used to wind the warp (vertical) threads of the loom in two, three, or four-folds into manageable balls. The warp threads are then looped and stretched between the horizontal posts of the frame that sets the standard size of the cloth. The fly wheel is also used to wind the weft (horizontal) threads onto a long flat blade or shuttle that, during weaving, is passed through the open shed of the warp threads from one hand to the other in a slow careful motion.

Using a primary heddle rod known as ahia and other supplementary heddle rods depending on the intricacy of the patterns, the weaver commences work. A standard length cloth takes at least three days to produce, and more if the designs are complex and elaborate. The designs are produced by supplementary weft patterning and an over-lay technique on the right side of the cloth. The broad-sized cloth is competed as one piece with tassels at both ends of the finished cloths. This decorative effect is achieved by leaving four inch length of unwoven warp threads at the end and grouping them together to create the tassel effect.
Akwete cloths are distinguished from other textiles produced on the vertical loom by their size. Typically, worn by women as wrappers, they are usually one standard size of 78.74 inches by 59.06 inches in matching pairs. Bigger or smaller sizes may be produced at the request of a client. As modern demand for the cloth rose, Akwete weavers formed guilds and cooperative association to procure yarns, and to market their products.

Because of its location (being the gateway to the state of Abia from the Rivers State and its river bank location with easy accessibility to the ocean), Akwete enjoyed early contacts with Christianity as missionaries came inland to preach the gospel of Christ. Hence, Akwete was the beneficiary of one of the oldest Anglican Cathedrals built in Africa.

Akwete is the headquarters of Ukwa-East local government area of the state Abia in Nigeria. Its people are kindhearted and very hospitable (as they demonstrated to the early Europeans and missionaries).
 

Akwete National Association USA, Inc.
Phone: (347) 663-4349 Fax: (347) 663-4349. Email: info@akweteusa.com

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