The Queen Amina embroideries from Nigeria

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Sample of white damask cloth with fourteen embroidery patterns, Queen Amina Embroidery group, Nigeria, 2019 (TRC 2019.0097).

Sample of white damask cloth with fourteen embroidery patterns, Queen Amina Embroidery group, Nigeria, 2019 (TRC 2019.0097).

A few days ago a small package, with numerous Nigerian postage stamps, arrived at the TRC. It contained two samples, which was a great (and wonderful) surprise as only one sample had been ordered! The samples were organised, especially for the TRC, by Hassana Yusuf and made by Fatima Haruna and Ramatu Sani of the Queen Amina Embroidery group from among the Hausa in northern Nigeria.

The samples were made for the Encyclopedia of Sub-Saharan African Embroidery (due in 2020; Bloomsbury Publishers, London). The samples are made on locally available cotton damask cloth using a thick cotton thread. They are hand embroidered in a variety of stitches, including decorative darning stitch, open chain stitch and butttenhole stitch eyelets.

One of the samples (TRC 2019.0096) is made of blue cloth and includes twelve different patterns. The other sample (2019.0097a) is made of white cloth and includes fourteen different designs in three rows and all are used for Hausa embroidery, especially the men’s gowns. The names of the various designs are given, either written directly on the sample, or on a separate piece of paper (compare TRC 2019.0097b). The designs on the white cloth sample are:

  1. Wala wala (‘very well’)
  2. Ramatu Sani one of the embroiderers of the Hausa sampler (2018; photograph by courtesy of Hassana Yusuf, Queen Amina Embroidery).

    Ramatu Sani one of the embroiderers of the Hausa sampler (2018; photograph by courtesy of Hassana Yusuf, Queen Amina Embroidery).

    Rufin azara (‘the roof of fasting’)
  3. Dagi/sarka
  4. Kafe (Café)
  5. Tsaiwa (‘Stupidity’)
  6. Rufin Azara me (‘Silver cover me’)
  7. Sawan kusu (‘Get up with you’)
  8. Bille (‘Ball’)
  9. Tiki (‘Get’)
  10. Surfani
  11. Gidan suga
  12. Tsani (‘Tsunami’)
  13. Sawun kusu (‘Knitting a hole’)
  14. Ciko

What is the Queen Amina Embroidery group? Northern Nigeria is well-known for the production of large robes known as babban riga, which are traditionally decorated with hand embroidery (dinkin hannu) on a ground of cotton damask cloth. Until the 1970’s the embroidery was normally carried out by men, then women started to embroider the babban riga. Various embroidery groups for women were formed. At first they made men’s embroidered caps (hula) and later men’s robes. They took up the embroidery of men’s robes because the increase in the local economy meant more and more men wanted these garments, but there were not enough (male) embroiderers. Women could work at home, so keeping up the traditional seclusion of married women, while bringing in an income for their families.

Fatima Haruna at work on a piece of Hausa embroidery. She was one of the embroiderers who worked on the samplers (2018; photograph by courtesy of Hassana Yusuf, Queen Amina Embroidery).

Fatima Haruna at work on a piece of Hausa embroidery. She was one of the embroiderers who worked on the samplers (2018; photograph by courtesy of Hassana Yusuf, Queen Amina Embroidery).

Queen Amina Embroidery was started in 1994 in the northern Nigerian city of Zaria. They are called after a sixteenth century ruler of the Zazzau Emirate (in what is now northern Nigeria), Queen Amina. The group initially included fifteen skilled embroiderers. Since then they have been going from strength to strength and the number of embroiderers has increased. They have also had exhibitions in various parts of Africa as well as the United States, including the 2016 International Folk Arts Market (IFAM) in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Queen Amina embroiderers are now producing a wide range of garments and household objects that are decorated with traditional Hausa embroidery. They are certainly a group to be watched and supported by those interested in the continuation of different forms of hand embroidery in general.

The Queen Amina Embroidery group can be contacted via Hassana Yusuf ( Dit e-mailadres is beschermd tegen spambots. U heeft Javascript nodig om het te kunnen zien. ) or Dr. Elisha Renne ( Dit e-mailadres is beschermd tegen spambots. U heeft Javascript nodig om het te kunnen zien. ).

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