Genealogy of Craftmanship: Inside Ilorin’s Decades-Old Community of Craftspeople

Growing up in Ilorin, a distinct culture I noticed was the connection between family names and the professions they were widely known for. It was easy to hear a name and immediately attribute certain qualities to the bearers of those names. However, the concept behind the origin of these names stretches into the preservation of crafts in Ilorin’s inner cities. Most families with a creative lineage make it mandatory for all offspring to learn and practice their family craft from an early age to build their interest in the craft while fostering its longevity. I’ve always been fascinated by the prioritisation of continuity and legacies these families held dear to their hearts.

Art and craft from immemorial has been an instrument to document stories, experiences, values, beliefs, and everything worthy of expression. We see this as far back as the beginning of life and as told in the holy books. Words were engraved on stones, and gods were crafted from various materials. History is possible because facts have previously been recorded in writing, diagrams, paintings, sculptures and other creative forms. Undoubtedly, one factor that allows knowledge to be passed down from century to century is the art of continuity. Continuity, to me, is the thirst to keep experiences alive. Stories, professions, and cultures have been conveyed for centuries, and their effects remain present with a tendency to extend infinitely into the future as a result of continuity.

Arguably, continuity moulds human identity, and I strongly agree with Melville Fuller on saying, “Without continuity, men would become like flies in summer.” This is why I journeyed to tell the stories of the years of creativity in Ilorin’s inner city through the experiences of four veterans.

Firstly, I met Alhaja Ralait Saka, a sixth-generation clay artist whose job still gives her as much joy as it did when she began as a little girl years ago. Although she claims not to vividly remember when she started pottery because of how early she was introduced to her family’s craft, she is immensely satisfied with the outcome of her life as an artist and a firm upholder of her family’s heritage.

Alhaji Toyin Oba, a skilled professional in the Aso-Ofi craft, began his journey as early as age three. His path had been sealed in the profession even before birth, as preceding generations had practised and polished the craft to perfection. While the decision to venture into Aso-Ofi wasn’t his personal decision, he grew to love it over the course of his life and built a successful career out of it.

Omotosho Wahab recognised the importance of functionality in creativity and has taken pride in all the aluminium pots he has crafted for the comfort and utility they provide to his clients. His involvement in his profession commenced at 15 when he became an apprentice under his older brother. Wahab stated that he had spent over 55 years making aluminium pots, which he terms a problem-solving craft because people would always eat, and aluminium pots are integral to the process. He takes delight in this reality and doesn’t think any other profession would have made him happier.

Yakub Jimoh, a blacksmith who was also born into the profession, expressed his love for his craft with an extensive insight into the process of shaping metals. He is joyful and fulfilled with his achievements so far.

I deduced from my encounter with four of them that their various experiences all have a binding factor—continuity. They were given talents and purposes which they have nurtured and developed into sustainable sources of livelihood.

Interestingly, during my tour at Alhaja Raliat Alhaji Saka, and Wahab’s workshops, I met young children and teenagers learning from these veterans. In fact, this vividly represented the stories I aimed to tell.

I also got to speak to a vibrant young man and university graduate who used to be an apprentice with Alhaji Oba way before he gained admission to the university. I was curious to know why he returned to weaving Ofi, and he ascribed his decision to his passion and love for the craft.

While continuity exists to preserve traditions and cultures, curiosity is a natural human trait. This implies that it is possible to have a genuine interest in continuity while fantasising about other professions and exploring them. I asked these four individuals if they wished they had explored different career paths.

All provided a congruent response, expressing contentment. Alhaja Saka was the only one who shared that she would have ventured into something else if needed. Others simply stated that they couldn’t imagine doing something different.

No matter how rewarding, all professions have their fair share of challenges. Based on this, I asked the veterans what their challenges have been so far. Omotosho and Alhaji Oba both expressed dissatisfaction about the ripple effect of the economy on their trade. Prices of materials have significantly skyrocketed, leading them to spend more money to purchase materials.

Despite the challenges and the posed threats to their professions, these individuals still have certain things that they love about their jobs. Alhaji Oba loves the stability and comfort it provides because, through his job, he has provided adequately for his family. Alhaja Saka is utmostly satisfied when her products come together as envisioned.

These four individuals have experienced continuity differently due to the diversity in their family professions. Still, they have individually chosen to

promote these crafts and, in turn, have played their part in keeping their culture alive. However, due to newer alternatives to these professions, several people no longer patronise the unique age-long businesses. This can discourage individuals interested in learning the trades. To keep continuity alive, we must ensure that both traditional and modern crafts coexist to prevent old professions from becoming extinct.

Yakub further raised the issue of increased apathy among youths towards engaging in familial crafts. Wahab linked it to the lack of resilience and patience among youths compared to the forefathers who strived hard to build these crafts.

Alhaja Saka encouraged the youth to uphold their family values and heritage. To her, knowledge is never a waste. She emphasised this with a practical example of how she ensured all the children in her family compulsorily perfected the craft at the elementary stages of their lives, regardless of their desired profession. And so far, the skills have come in handy, particularly for the ones who have migrated to other countries in search of greener pastures.

Yakub urged the government to invest in local craft as much as they do in other professions. He believes the youth apathy emanates from the need to infuse modern-day technology into their businesses, which is too expensive for them to provide by themselves.

Alhaji Oba buttressed on Yakub’s point with how he thinks the government can solve this problem. He wants the government to build companies directly requiring their services and equip them with relevant machinery. This would enable them to level up to other professions and as a result, encourage the involvement of more individuals in craftsmanship.

Wahab wishes he could travel to other countries to experience what his fellow craftspeople do differently so he can return home and infuse the knowledge into his work. He says bringing in new development could be an effective way of boosting youth enthusiasm in craftsmanship.

At the end of my conversation with them, it dawned on me that craft continuity, at the very least, is a function of society. When families play their part in fostering familial craft, it is up to society to readily support the process.

Overall, I’m delighted to know the genealogy of craftsmanship has played a vital role in the longevity of craft in Ilorin. Seeing people like Alhaja Saka, Alhaji Oba, Wahab and Yakub ignited my passion for being a force of continuity in the world. ∎

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