There is no way to separate the richness of the Jamaican culture from its African roots. The nation of Nigeria holds an integral place in the soil of the Jamaican culture and has knit together a lot of what has become Jamaican cultural expression today. The threads of the Jamaican and Nigerian connection have been interwoven and date back to the days of slavery where remnants of their cultural identity have become our own. Textile designs and prints are one way the expression of the similitude of our story is told.
Through a bilateral arrangement with the Nigerian High Commission and Jamaica, Mr. Alao Luqman was assigned as a Cultural Diplomat. Mr. Luqman has been with the Jamaican Business Development Corporation (JBDC) since 2018 and has spearheaded workshops to teach techniques in metal work, tie dye batik, leather and jewellery making. He coined the word “Jadire” which is a combination of the name Jamaica with the Yoruba word ‘ adire’, which means tie and dye.
Through the JBDC registered name “Jadire”, the mission is to make this the national cloth for Jamaica just like other symbols represent the island. The connection between Jamaica and Nigeria is inescapable and Alao said “If we are to look at most of the motif that’s used on Nigerian tie dye batik they are almost the same thing here in Jamaica. For example, ackee and breadfruit leaf is a common pattern for both Jamaican and Nigerian prints.” Continuing, he said “Jamaica has a vast culture that is very rich. I can see so many traces of it from African nations and though Jamaica has many western influences, I can see the very distinctive African culture when it comes on to fabric.”
Textile Design as Identity
Through the different stages of history, art and fashion, textiles have been used as a tool to form identity and to trademark the brand of a culture so it is distinct wherever it is seen. The Caribbean at large and Jamaica specifically has had an intriguing evolution with fashion as the course of history changed from slavery, to the pangs of early decolonisation to the fight for creating Jamaica’s national identity. Fashion and textile prints have been a microphone to declare our roots and individuality.
Fashion Designer at the JBDC, Mr. Robert Hall said “There is a reparative sense in which art has manifested itself in Jamaica and we are in a state where persons are almost doing it as an antithesis to a European or first world American culture. The styles usually come with a tribal element, or an earthy manifestation, visibly hand done where there’s not a highly mechanised element.”
The local textile design industry owes parts of its roots to formal education system that retain African history as inspiration for design. Through the establishment of the Jamaica School of Art that later formed part of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, there was a department established specifically for the treatment of weaving and decoration of textiles. According to Mr. Hall, “With the advent of the department, you had persons who came out of that space who were practicing these skills and there was always within that the learning of our African history. We learnt tie dying, batik, and there was also the traditional techniques like Adinkra stamping and Adire.
The Local Textile Industry
Local experts agree that the realities of the current local textile industry needs development and structure. According to the United Nations ComTrade database on international trade, in 2021 Jamaica’s importation of other made textile articles, sets, worn clothing, was US$29.71 million.
The local textile industry has not flourished the way it could and Mr. Hall shared that “Because of the lack of continuity and the lack of infrastructure in terms of the development of a textile industry, what we have found is that there has been stops and starts and lots of gaps in between.” Continuing, he said “All the elements need to come together, there is currently a lack of structure and a policy context in which to frame the industry and there is also need for industry spaces where student artisans can join themselves for apprenticeship to learn how things work.”
Mr. Luqman added his assessment of the local industry and said “The industry needs research and promotion. Jamaicans are very talented, very passionate about business and are always willing to learn new things.” He went on to say “To develop the textile design industry there must be promotion of those who have already began doing work with Jadire and having them put out there for their craft. Another way to promote and sustain the industry is by passing on the knowledge, this is what we do in Nigeria so skilled persons don’t die with the knowledge that they have.”
JBDC Textiles Workshop Series – Jadire: The Hand-Painting Techniques
Since 2018, the JBDC has been able to introduce and explore a range of techniques in the development of textiles connected to our African heritage. Continuing the exploration of the pathways within the Jamaican-Nigerian collaboration, Part 1 of the 2023 Textiles Workshop Series focuses on Silk Painting techniques. The workshops include the review of core skills and principles of handling brush and dyes on this storied material, this will allow participants to develop confidence in creating one-of-a-kind designs. Part 1 will be delivered in a total of 4 sessions on February 14, 16, 21 and 23 at the JBDC Incubator & Resource Centre in Kingston. Part 2 – Advanced Batik Painting follows in March. Interested persons may visit www.jbdc.net for registration details.