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The Cloth Market

One thing stands between me and full Yoruba-ness, well maybe three if you count the color of my skin and the fact that I’m American. But that one important thing is clothing. Yoruba women dress in vivid, colorful, patterned cloths. In a woman’s traditional outfit, an iro and buba, the buba is wrapped around their waists as a long skirt and the iro is a loose long sleeve shirt. Then they wrap a gele around their heads with their hair tucked in. I love the way it looks and I would feel like my Yoruba assimilation is complete when I can wo iro ati buba. To my delight, my host mom took me to one of the biggest cloth markets in Ibadan this weekend, called Gbagi.

The Gbagi market in Ibadan. Expanses of cloth forever.


When my mom, Ossai (my mom’s friend) and I got out of the car cloth sellers, women and men, started flocking to me, grabbing my arms to lead me into their stalls. Once I told my name to one person on the strip of stalls where we parked, everyone started yelling “Titilayo! Come buy now. Come to my store. Come here now!” Names of the ‘Oyinbo’s’ who speak Yoruba spread like wild fire in Nigeria.

My mom and Ossai dragged me away from these people because middle men kept interjecting between the sellers and I, trying to ‘help’ me purchase cloth so they could get a cut of the price. Walking through the market was no easy task for us, seeing as I was so overwhelmed by the amount of fabric I had to stop and look at every other stall. It didn’t help much that my Yoruba skills astounded all of the sellers. If I approached a shop and greeted the women ‘greetings for selling’ I could be sure 20 other people sitting near that particular stall would hear that I speak Yoruba. The secret is out. Men would approach to observe the conversation before inquiring about my marriage status, if I would marry them and bring them back to America. All of this slowed our pace. I am bad at shopping as it is-my mom can attest to this- so me in a massive market with hundreds of different patterned cloth at my fingertips was a serious dilemma. I had to consult Ossai about every other one, asking her if the cloth was ‘fine’ enough. (Yoruba people say ‘O dat’s fine,’ or ‘Aso (clothing) fine,’ when they really like something. I know what I like, but I like to know that other people like it too. The options are so plentiful that I just had to say, I like this one enough, cut it.

You can buy cloth in 6 yards or 12 yards. Prices vary based on the quality of the material and the dye. I came out of the Gbagi market with two beautiful cloths. I bought 6 yards of each. The first one for 500 Naira, about $3.50 and the second for 1,200 Naira, about $8.

Now the cloth is with a tailor. The possibilities are endless of what you can get made. I am getting a iro, buba, gele and a dress that I designed myself made. All together, 2 new full outfits will cost me under $20. Success.

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