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Fila, Hula or Yaudi: Bama Caps from Nigeria’s Borno State are likely to be seen across West Africa

Depending on the number of layers in the design, this hand-made cap can take anywhere from two to five weeks to sew

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Bama Caps. Image Source: Wikipedia.org

NIGERIA, September 1, 2016: The Bama Cap from Nigeria’s Borno State is a distinctive hat made by the Bama people in the north-eastern part of the country. Locally, the Bama cap is known as- filahula or yaudi.

Prized across West Africa for their intricate embroidery, the hats are now being woven into Nigerian pop culture, worn by young and old, from politicians to music celebrities.

Nigerian rapper Naeto C made a stunning fashion statement when he wore a Bama cap with urban streetwear in the music video for his 2011 hit single 10 over 10.

President Muhammadu Buhari is rarely seen without his Bama cap. Women are also rocking the style, led by creative female music celebrities.The Bama people have been making their caps for hundreds of years, but not too many people know the full story.

Nigeria's Borno state highlighted in red. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Nigeria’s Borno state highlighted in red. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Bama people have been making their caps for hundreds of years, but not too many people know the full story.

Survivors of terror 

“The Bama cap began in Yaudi, that’s the town in the Bama area of Borno state. It was worn by the leaders of the community,” explains Ahmed Isa Ghondi.

Ghondi is a promoter of the Bama cap and has written up to 40 unpublished books on the tradition. But there is also a dark side to the story.

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Bama was nearly wiped out by Boko Haram, the violent Islamic extremist group that has left a trail of bloodshed through northeastern Nigeria for years. Those who survived the carnage flocked to Maiduguri. The state capital, Borno’s largest city and commercial hub, also has been wracked by Boko Haram’s attacks, but it is still safer than Bama.

“They’ll take your wife,” Bama native Dunoma Gambo says of Boko Haram. “They’ll take your child and they’ll also force you into joining them.”

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Gambo escaped such a fate by fleeing to Maiduguri, where he now is part of a collective of internally displaced Bama people. They kept up their cultural tradition of sewing Bama caps after arriving in the state capital, and the collective has flourished.

Traditional techniques and designs

“I grew up and saw people sewing and that’s how I learned,” Gambo says. “You will be practicing and you will make many mistakes, but with time, you will do it right. I’ve now been an expert in it for 12 years.”

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Each cap starts with a design template that is sketched by hand, using a ruler and colored markers.

Templates can be bought for less than $10. Once there’s a template, the sewing of the cap’s base begins. The white centerpiece on the top goes on last.

Depending on the number of layers in the design, a cap can take anywhere from two to five weeks to sew. Everything is done by hand.

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In Maiduguri, the caps sell for about $20. In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, they sell for at least $50, and on up to $180.

Caps symbolize national unity

“The caps, they are very strong. That’s why people from different parts of the country buy them,” says Sani Mohammed, who traveled from Kaduna state to buy caps for his upcoming wedding.

“The cap brings unity among Nigerians,” Sani Mohammed says. Even though he is not from Bama, he wants to wear a Bama cap on his wedding day.
“Everyone comes here, all the tribes – from Yoruba to Igbo to non-Nigerians,” says 25-year-old Mohammed Fantami. At his fashion shop in Abuja, he says, the Bama caps sell out quickly, in part because they are a symbol of prestige.

“Wearing a cap brings respect,” Fantami says. “Between two people, if one is wearing a cap and the other is not, there is a difference. Even if you see a small kid with a cap, you will respect him.”

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Once the caps arrive from Maiduguri, they are hand-washed and starched. After drying in the sun for at least 12 hours, the caps are pressed with a charcoal iron.

Bama cap promoter Ahmed Isa Ghondi wants to expand the cap-making industry. He drives around, telling people about what makes the caps so special.

“Because of the hand stitching, the fact that it was made by hand,” he says. “You know, the carpets in Uzbekistan are famous because they are hand-stitched. So these caps must also be famous.”

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Men from Bama like Dunoma Gambo will continue to sew their traditional caps in Maiduguri. They say Boko Haram fighters may have destroyed their homes in Bama, but they have not destroyed the Bama cap. (VOA)

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More Science Careers: African School Of Physics on Mission To Educate New African Generation Through Traveling Program

"Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement," she wrote in an email. She noted "increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce."

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Ketevi Assamagan, a particle physicist at the U.S.-based Brookhaven National Laboratory, co-founded the African School of Physics, a training program for graduate students in math and sciences. (Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory) VOA

Africa-born particle physicist Ketevi Assamagan is a man on a mission. His goal is to bring science education to a new generation of young Africans through a traveling program known as the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, or ASP.

“Sometimes, people just need some help to be able to find the right resources,” said Assamagan, an ASP founder who works at the U.S. Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory here on Long Island. “So, together with some colleagues, we decided to create this school.”

Born in Guinea, Assamagan grew up in Togo and earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia in 1995. Gratitude to past mentors fueled his desire to start the ASP, he said.

Positive elements

The ASP program runs for three weeks every two years in a different African country. The first was in 2010 in South Africa, with subsequent gatherings in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and Namibia. The next is planned for July 2020 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Each workshop brings together up to 80 students, who are treated to intensive lectures and training by top-flight physicists.

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)
Physicist Ketevi Assamagan demonstrates how a cloud chamber works. (A. Phillips/VOA)

“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.”

The students’ expenses are covered by roughly 20 international sponsors, including the Brookhaven lab; the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy; the South African Department of Science and Technology; and Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

Another sponsor has been the European Center for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, in Geneva. Assamagan worked on CERN’s particle accelerator for several years while conducting research on the elusive Higgs boson subatomic particle. He left in 2001 to join Brookhaven.

Sustained support

After the program, participants are paired with senior mentors who offer advice on additional education, teaching and research opportunities, both in Africa and abroad.

For Zimbabwe native Last Feremenga, participation in the 2010 ASP workshop served as a springboard to a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas. Now he’s a data scientist with Digital Reasoning, an artificial intelligence firm headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I sift through large datasets of written text in search of rare forms of conversations/language. These rare conversations are useful for our clients from health care to finance,” the 32-year-old told VOA in an email. He added that he’s using “similar tactics” to those he learned at ASP.

Julia MacKenzie, senior director of international affairs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says training programs such as ASP are especially important in developing countries.

“Science is increasingly recognized as an important engine of economic growth and societal advancement,” she wrote in an email. She noted “increasing numbers of such programs on the African continent, where there is a surging young population entering the workforce.”

“A potential impact of graduate training is exposure to new ideas and people,” MacKenzie added. “Any time graduate students can come together, it’s likely that new friendships will form, and those relationships can provide support through inevitable challenges and spawn new collaborations.”

application learning
“We get students from all over Africa [who] have at least three years of university education,” Assamagan said. “The majority of them are usually at the master’s level and they come from different fields: nuclear and high energy physics, medical applications, computing, mathematics and theoretical physics.” Pixabay
Hands-on learning

Assamagan says that when he was in high school in Togo, science was taught from second-hand textbooks from abroad. There was no experimentation.

“Direct involvement … in terms of playing with things and getting mental challenge to try to figure it out was not really there,” he said. “We want to resolve that” through ASP.

The 70 or so science teachers at the workshop last year in Namibia learned hands-on experiments that could be replicated with scant equipment and resources.

For example, using only a small plastic box with an aluminum plate, tin foil, Styrofoam, pure alcohol and dry ice, high school students could build a tabletop “cloud chamber” to simulate the detection of cosmic particles from outer space. Another experiment taught physics to elementary school children by way of art. The children could drip paint on a canvas tilted at various angles, then observe the patterns the paint made as it descended.

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“You can then start introducing the idea of gravity,” Assamagan said. “And then relating things falling down to the Earth going around the sun as being driven by the same force.”

Assamagan predicts a bright future for physics research in Africa. He says he sees talent and commitment, but that more digital libraries, along with continent-wide access to high-speed internet connections and the political will to provide them, are needed. (VOA)