Seun Adeyemi
3 min readFeb 28, 2019

Adire Motifs and their Meanings

Whenever we wear Adire fabric, we always try to ensure that our tradition, art and culture are always around and with us or the place we find ourselves. Adire textiles are a practical means of which the rich Yoruba cultural heritage and ideas could be channeled to other cultures. The Yoruba of South-western Nigeria are renowned for their vibrant cultural environment where Adire textile has been a lucrative clothing style over time in their festivals and ceremonial events. Traditionally, the Adire pattern cloth dyeing technique is practiced by Yoruba women from South-west, Nigeria. The pattern, content and arrangement of the designs and motifs are usually handed down from mother to daughter within a family. The Adire pattern cloth dyeing techniques are passed on from one generation to another over time.
Adire textiles are special fabrics with intricate patterns, which is the result of hand-painted work done on the fabric during production. All patterns on Adire fabrics connote a meaning which tells a story or historical events. The motifs and designs are well-represented in various forms and shapes over time. The designs however tell a story of a particular culture from the very past but could have changed over time due owed to the influence of other culture and the colonial era. The patterns are in form of stylised representation of animals, plants, abstract patterns and everyday objects. However, the motifs and designs of Adire tradition are classifiable into five (5) types: geometric, letters, figural, celestiomorphic and skewmorphic patterns.
The geometric motifs are dots, lines (such as straight, spiral, hatching and cross hatching lines), and circles, semi-circles, squares, rectangles and triangles.

Geometric Motif

The letters are the Alphabets of the Yoruba Language, cities, names and proverbs (letter motifs).

Letter Motif

The figural motifs are two (2) sub-types: zoomorphic and floral. The zoomorphic motifs are of sub-groups: avian (such as Adaba — Dove, Agbufon — Crowned Crane, Opeere — Brown-eared Bulbul, Pepeye — Duck and Tolotolo — Turkey), reptilian (such as Ejo — Snake) and mammalian species, arthropods, annelids, mollusca, Pisces, and amphibians. The floral motifs are Ewe Ege, Ogede Agbagba — Plantain, Koko — Cocoa pod, Odan — Fig tree, Fulawa — Petals, Koro Owu — Cotton seed. The figural motifs also comes in Human form such as Kings or Queens.

Figural Motif

The celestiomorphic motifs are based on celestial bodies or planets such as Irawo — stars and Osupa — moon.

The skewmorphic motifs are the representation of man-made objects and tools such as Opon Ifa — Ifa Divination tray, yeti — earring, Ileke Bebe — waist beads, Amuga — scissors, Sekere — gourd rattle, Akete — straw hat, Aago Owo — wrist watch, crown, staff, cowries, cassava leaves and Ilu Gangan — Gangan talking drum.

Some of the meanings of these motifs and patterns are vary and specific symbolism in the lives of the Yoruba people. Cowries represent money. Cassava leaves represent life. The talking drum shows the constellation of sound, messages and festivals. Earring represents only hear good news. Crossroads represent the crossroads of life. Mirrors represent someone that’s a reflection in your life. Waves of life represent the waves away from any troubles. Guinea corn represents the hand that feeds you never lacks.

Some these motifs are pictorial while the others have a similar resemblance to what is represented.

Article and Cover Design by Seun Adeyemi (ila) for Adire Lounge.

Date: 16/02/2019

Reference: Adire Textile Images (Afri-Love)