Nigerian Design Patterns: Akwete

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An intro to Nigerian Design Patterns was written a couple of weeks back were I mentioned why I was doing this and the importance.

“Woven textiles are the very fabric of Nigerian history and culture. Archaeological remains of woven bark fragments from the 9th century A.D. archaeological site at Igbo Ukwu provides evidence of the earliest known weaving in Nigeria, although the specific nature and use of these textiles is not known. Two centuries later, cast bronze figures from the ancient Yoruba site at Ife (12-15th Century A.D.) show royalty wearing cloth wrappers that may well have been woven on upright frame looms similar to the type Yoruba women weavers use today. Such is an example of the way textiles figure, and have figured, prominently in the political as well as religious, social, and economic lives of Nigerian people. Moreover, as highly portable mediums, such cloths are able to travel over great distances, providing threads of contact and the dissemination of designs for others to decipher” Weaving in Southern Nigeria


The focus of this post are textile samples from a people in Igbo land. Akwete cloth is a special woven fabric by Igbo women in Akwete area near Aba in Abia State. It is originally referred to as “Akwa Miri” (Cloth of the water) meaning towel. Akwete cloth weaving is said to be as old as the Igbo nation. Akwete cloth is usually made of cotton thread, and the decorative motifs are produced with cotton threads of a heavier texture or rayon silk done on a loom.


Akwete cloth is created in different colours and patterns which come from around earth, including activities that people partake in during the day. You will find animals, bits, chairs, tools as patterns. The colors also have a specific significance. You go from blue/indigo which is most important, black/white, special to the more mainstream colors that represent the earth;  greens, browns, yellows and sometimes red used as a base. The soil is red in those parts so it makes some sense.


Patterns of red and black designs, interwoven in geometric patterns on the white ground which is favoured by Igbo men. It is mainly used as a towel for bathing. The weavers have much preference for bright and strong colour like red and yellow. The Akwete cloths woven from sisal-hemp fibres are of coarse type, used by masqueraders, and by warriors as headgears, while those made from raffia fibres are used on religious occasions like the Ozo titleship, and for mourning by women.

In the olden days, the “tortoise” motif (ikaki) is only worn by members of royal families and if anybody from non-royal family dares wear it, he or she could be punished or be  sold into slavery.

The “ebe” design is specially reserved for use as a protective talisman for pregnant women or warriors. Most of these designs or motifs are by inspiration because the weavers claim that certain motifs are revealed to them by the gods, and as a result, no weaver is allowed to copy the design and it therefore dies with its owner. One of my reasons for doing this, is so it doesn’t. (McPhilips Nwachukwu & Appolos Oziogu Ibebabuchi)


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All illustrated in Omnigraffle

Why is Cloth important?

Cloth is a valued artifact and plays an essential role in every aspect of Nigerian life, in marriage, political and ritual exchanges. As dress, cloth reaches it’s most meaningful form. A clothed body is essential to complete human identity. (Cloth, Dress and Art Patronage in Africa) We Nigerians love to ‘Dress’ just check out any wedding.

Cloth layers the body with meaning

Turner, 1980

Prior to the introduction of money, cloth was the most common kind of currency for ordinary marketing in West Africa. It measured the value of other commodities and service (Bohannan and Curtin)

Learn More

Adire African Textiles

An Appraisal of the Aesthetic Dimension to the African Philosophy of Cloth

Bella Africana

Dayo Forster 

5 thoughts on “Nigerian Design Patterns: Akwete

  1. Pingback: Omnigraffle Vs Adobe Illustrator | Antonia Writes

    • The Ebe motif is a cup-like shape incorproated in some of these patterns (I should probably illustrate and describe each motif seperately) but you can find a description in Akwete Cloth and Its Motifs by Marian Davis.

  2. Pingback: Akwete in play | Antonia

  3. Pingback: Respect a Designer today | Antonia

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