Observably, parties especially frivolous ones, otherwise referred to as “Owambes” in this part of the world, remain incomplete without attendees adorning, at least one uniformed type of apparel which in most cases, comes in the popular Ankara fabric. This kind of clothing which has an obvious origin in the Yoruba culture is known as “Aso-ebi” in popular Nigerian parlance.
Despite the fact that quite a lot goes into the planning stage of any party or merry occasion in our society, no other item, in the contemporary Nigerian social setting, constitute as much importance as the subject of Aso-ebi. Infact, in most instances, it is usually discussed before the subject of food is considered at all. So much premium is placed on the selection process of ‘ this thing’ such that more consultation is done in its regards than the issue of selecting a school for a child!
Gone are the days when this practice was confined to the circles of the unsophisticated and unlearned people, these days the reverse is the case as Aso-ebi has forced its ways into the corporate and enlightened world.
Just last two weeks, the ruling party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) held a national event during which the who-is-who in the Nigerian political terrain, the sophisticated and supposedly learned leaders of this country were sighted in a beautiful green Ankara Aso-ebi. Without any more instances, the PDP event was a good attestation to the fact that Aso-ebi has come to be entrenched, not only among the Yorubas but as a National culture.
Many reasons have been put forward on several occasions as the rationale behind this practice. To some people, Aso-ebi is the only point one can make to register his/her support and solidarity for any celebrant. They believe that one major means through which an individual can assure a celebrant of his/her unflinching support is to “help” the celebrant by taking part in the purchase of a selected Aso-ebi fabric. The support, to this school of thought, becomes more demonstrated when such an individual attends the party or occasion, proudly in the Aso-ebi.
As much as this symbolic solidarity makes some senses, especially when considered from the African communal, close-knitted large family culture perspective, one can easily make an argument that merely buying and appearing in a particular outfit during events does not indicate that one is not wishing the celebrant the worst of evils. Or what can one say about a hired assassin who appeared in the chosen Aso-ebi fabric for a particular celebration in order to gain entrance into the party ground and possibly wade off all manners of suspicion as to his mission of eliminating the celebrant, in a secluded place (say, the toilet) at the party venue before the expiration of the party? Hence, the issue of Aso-ebi being a way of demonstrating support and solidarity may not hold too much logic.
Yet another school of thought, really a pro Aso-ebi school, claim that the practice helps the celebrant to cushion the effects which his/her expenses for the party must have wrought on his/her wallet. It is believed that by inflating the cost of the fabric, the celebrant, who more often is responsible for the selection and distribution of the cloth, would be able to recoup most of his/her expenses on the party, especially on the provision of food and drinks.
The custom is this. A celebrant combs the market for a cheap but deceptively expensive-looking fabric; sells to friends and well-wishers with, say 50% inflation; in the name of wanting to share “gifts of appreciation” to those who share in the purchase of the fabric. Only for him/her to distribute cheap match-boxes (with matches inside of course), plastic hand-fans, toilet soaps, noodles packs and others of such articles, the costs of which is in no way close to the “profits” made from the sale of the cloths.
Now, that exactly accounts for the further entrenchment of this practice among Nigerians. Having understood the game thoroughly, one (especially those who had been victims) would not want to be complete losers. They, therefore in return look (and create, where there is none) for every opportunity to host parties and sell Aso-ebi in order to recoup earlier “investments”. After all, One good Turn, deserves another!
A friend, Ayodeji Olaifa believes there are three cardinal reasons why the object of Aso-ebi has come to be a well grounded norm in the country. The first, he says is due to the tendencies of Nigerians wanting to always display class and affluence at every given opportunity.
Said he: “Apart from wanting to separate the boys from the men, people also enjoy this practice because of their belief that it adds colour and pageantry to occasions”. Ayo explains that when a crowd of people appear in a uniformed manner, one cannot but expect to behold a carnival of beauty and a picturesque celebration. The craving for this, he said is what usually motivate Nigerians to believe that a party without Aso-ebi is far from being complete and colourful.
“The third reason for this culture is just the craze to join the crowd”. Ayo said merely because some people would not want to be left out of a particular trend, the idea of selecting Aso-ebi for parties would still remain among Nigerians. Most Nigerians, who are not blessed with a mind of their own, would continue to embrace this culture for as long as the trend setters in our society still regard it as sensible and desirable.
While one is not condemning the practice outrightly, the need to apply some sanity into it cannot be overlooked. Although the rightfulness or otherwise of the trend may not be ascertained but it should not constitute an all-in-all element of parties or celebrations in the society. The premium importance to Aso-ebi should be downplayed more than it presently is, in our society. This way, the craziness that usually comes with it, gets lessened.
One of such craziness is the aspersions which people readily pass on individuals who refuse to partake in the purchase and wearing of Aso-ebi. Under no sane condition should people who do not buy Aso-ebi may be due to personal conviction, philosophy, principle or financial inability be seen or regarded as antisocial or enemies of progress. These individuals should not be misunderstood as being ones who do not give “support or solidarity” to the celebrants.
Cases abound where people who do not appear in an “and co” apparel are treated differently by party organizers. They are not usually served the same food as people who bought Aso-ebi, in so many instances, which obviously gave birth to the slang that “if you did not appear in Aso-ebi Ankara, you are not entitled to eat semovita” (o o w’Ankara, o o je semo)!
If celebrants and party organizers insist on adding color and pageantry to their events just as Ayo observed earlier, they can still achieve same objective without necessarily ramming Aso-ebi down the throat of the people. A particular colour or combination of colors (of cloths) could be chosen and communicated to invitees.
The case of my lecturer-friend comes to mind here. According to him, he may not have to continue to “help” anybody buy any Aso-oke cap for any occasion in the next couple of years. Reason: He had already acquired a wardrobe of more than a hundred Aso-oke caps of various designs and colours.
“If there is any need for me to attend any party in a particular cap colour, I’ll only have to search through my wardrobe; and that’s all I may have to do, rather than buy new ones, all in the name of frivolities!” He said.
More sensibly, the money which people are compelled to spend on Aso-ebi which more often loose relevance immediately after a single occasion, could well be expended on more meaningful causes that would still make occasions memorable.
For an instance, such monetary resources could be pooled together (in a fund raising event, for an instance) to start, say a foundation, school, or vocational training centres in the name of a deceased whose funeral is being celebrated or in commemoration of any celebrated event for that matter.
People who have the wherewithal may even go ahead to order for a particular customized design of fabric and then distribute it, wait for this, FREE-OF-CHARGE! to invitees if it becomes a must that Aso-Ebi be used instead of hiding under it to deceive and defraud one another. God help us!