When you talk about Ede of Osun State, many would first think of the talking drum, because our late Timi, Oba Adetoyese Laoye, was known to have used the instrument in communicating with the people.
But Ede is much more than talking drums.
We are also good in, among other things, the making of Yoruba native wears – agbada, fila, etc – using handwoven textiles.
This was what my own father, Rafiu Akanmu, did for much of his life in Ede and took to Lagos to sell. At some point, he was given an entry pass into the Police College, Ikeja, where he displayed his wares for sale without harassment from any quarters.
He was properly trained by the masters here in Ede.
I was born in 1968 into the Sufiano Compound in Ede, and my name is Kamorudeen Adebayo Rafiu.
My father had many apprentices and workers and even as my siblings and I got involved one way or another in the trade, while young, he was more interested in us acquiring Western education, which he lacked.
So, I attended LA Primary School, Adogbe, here in Ede. I was admitted in 1980/81 into Timi Agbale Grammar School, also in Ede; finished in 1985 but went back as I did not have a credit in English Language in my school certificate examination. I made it in 1986, however, and it became useful, as you would see presently.
At first, I had thought of going to work in the Civil Service but an attempt by an older relation to help find work in a local government council was not successful. So, I decided to go for my A-Level, which I did in 1987/88 at Baptist High School, Ede. The subjects I took were Yoruba, History and Islamic Studies. Three months to the end of that journey, as I was to sit for my last examination, in 1988, my dad died. That affected my result. As I did not make all the A-Level papers which would have helped me secure admission by direct entry into a tertiary institution, I decided to sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination of the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB). I did this twice but was unsuccessful.
So, I had to fully face the business of hat-making.
Fortunately, I did not have to worry about a shop or equipment; although my siblings and I gradually scaled up as time went on.
This street is called Popo Street but with the coming of the Federal Polytechnic Ede, it has been subsumed by Federal Poly Road. This building where I was also born is No. 45.
Although there are looms in Ede where the cloths and tapestries are woven, they are not as many as those in Oke Ogun, Iseyin and Okeho, all in Oyo State, and Ilorin. It is from those places that those who sell them in Oja Oje markets here in Ede and Ibadan buy them from, in bulk. They are sold in the markets at nine days’ intervals. So, if the one here in Ede sells today, the next market day would be nine days’ later in Ibadan. All the fabrics needed to make the caps, including ofi, aso oke and damask can be found in either of the markets.
While my dad had his base at Police College, I started in 1990 to go to places in Lagos such as Obalende, Tafawa Balewa Square and Victoria Island to sell the caps. Wherever there were conferences, seminars, conventions and such events, you would find me there. We usually got information from other itinerant vendors, particularly those who sold fabrics about where there were events around the country. It is then left for us to weigh the opportunity costs.
As it were, I have been fully into the making of Yoruba caps for about thirty-two years now and I have trained four persons who are also independent.
I also got married in 1991, and my first child, a female, is also now married. I thank God that I have, with proceeds from this craft, been able to provide education for my children. She is a graduate of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso. Two of her siblings are at the Federal Polytechnic Ede and one is in 400 Level at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Ondo State.
Now, a friend who we finished together at Baptist High School in 1985, and had become a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic Ede, convinced me that I could still go further in my education. He encouraged me to enrol for part-time national diploma in accountancy at the polytechnic. With his encouragement, I dusted my school certificate results with the requisite five credits and got admission in 2001. I bagged the ordinary diploma in 2004. I wanted to go for my higher national diploma but my responsibilities were a little too many for me. But, at least, I have fulfilled my dad’s wish to some extent.
In 2002, someone told me that business could be more thriving in Akure, Ondo State. It was that person who first gave me accommodation in the Oke Aro area of the city.
Indeed, the business proved to be good there in Akure, and I decided to stop going to Lagos.
Until recently, I used to sell to motorists and commuters whose drivers stopped to fill up at the NNPC Mega Station on Ilesa-Akure Expressway. But the new dealers who took over the station’s management said they did not want sellers of any kind on their premises. I had to look for another outlet in town, and luckily, I was welcome at another filling station belonging to Farbas Petroleum at the old Owo/Akure Road, in the Alagbaka neighbourhood. The dealer warned against untoward practices, but of course.
Having spent so many years at the NNPC station, I had made many customers, so I had to leave my phone number (+234 803 288 6536) with one or two of the attendants, and they have been directing people to where I am. I cannot thank them enough.
I travel from Ede to Akure on Fridays and return on Sunday evenings. Often, I come to Ede with orders for new caps. When there is business, I sell on the average seventy-five per cent of my stock. When the business is dull, I sell like seventeen per cent. There are some of our customers in Akure who have events such as wedding or funeral and they give me the fabrics with different sizes that I bring to Ede to sew and return to Akure with the finished works.
Sales are highest during the festivities: Christmas, Easter, Eid el Fitr.
The most common sizes in demand are twenty-two/twenty-two-and half inches.
There were two significant periods when business went down drastically: one was after the annulment of Basorun M K O Abiola’s presidential election in 1993. It affected social engagements in Western Nigeria and, consequently, our business suffered. Then, the other one was during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Our wives now became the providers for the families. We became gentle, as they say.
There is none of my male children who does not know how to make these caps, and the processes involved in the business.
Provided that Yoruba males continue to wear native dresses, this business will never go into extinction. Donning fila is what the Yoruba culture demands when you are attired in agbada, particularly. Without it, your dressing is incomplete, sorry.
We shall keep trying and believing that the Almighty will continue to bless the work of our hands.
I have been told of the possibilities of online sales/marketing of the caps. I am seriously looking at it as travelling up and down would become less attractive as one grows older.