Aso Ebi

Bridal train in Aso Ebi
Groom’s men in Aso Ebi. Photo: Neo Fashions

Aso Ebi (also called Ashebi), which literally means ‘family cloth’ originated with the Yoruba people of south-western Nigeria, as can be deduced from the name. It refers to a piece or set of clothing that is chosen and worn by members of a family at a social function, especially if they are the celebrants. Its purpose is to create a sense of oneness within the family. It may include only a headgear for the women and a cap for the men, or whole sets of clothing: buba (blouse), iro (wrapper), ipele (waist cloth), and gele (headgear) for the women; and buba (top), soro (trousers), fila (cap), and sometimes agbada (a form of over shirt) for the men. The materials used for Aso Ebi used to be aso oke (ofi) and adire.

In recent times, however, the culture of Aso Ebi has been modified in various ways. The term Aso Ebinow usually means a uniform that is meant for anybody who would be a guest at a function. It has ceased to be something meant strictly for the celebrating family and is now basically a means of adding gaiety and elegance to events. Even people that are not closely related to the celebrant can buy and wear Aso Ebi. Also, the advent of modern fabrics has changed the kind of materials used as aso ebi; Ankara (wax prints) and lace are now in common use. Aso oke is still used in affluent circles.

Although originally meant for good, several unpleasant practices have come to be associated with Aso Ebi. In some settings, it is the ticket for partaking in a social function; anyone who is not dressed in it is not even granted entrance into the event venue. In more ‘liberal’ situations, a person that is not dressed in Aso Ebiis allowed to be a part of the event but he is treated as an inferior guest: nobody pays serious attention to catering for him, and he may even be deliberately left out when souvenirs are being given to other guests.

Another unpleasant thing about Aso Ebi in current practice is that some of thematerials come in highly exorbitant prices. While some lace Aso Ebi material cost a few thousands of naira, some cost some hundreds of thousands of naira. Some hosts choose two or three Aso Ebiwith widely varying prices for a single occasion in the name of giving guests the opportunity to buy what they can afford. Eventually, the guests at such events are grouped into two or three social classes by the Aso Ebithey wear, and the events, instead of facilitating good relationship among the guests, end up as wealth contests.

However, the Aso Ebi custom is not bad in itself, provided it is practised within reasonable limits. It still remains a way of expressing love and goodwill at social functions. It is, perhaps, an element of Nigerian social customs that has come to stay.

Olubola Adegbosin
Profession: Medical Doctors