Aso Ebi Is the Nigerian Way To Rep Your Set

Nigeria is having a moment on the world stage. The moment is comprised of myriad parts, but its outsize cultural impact in Western Europe and the United States have undeniably reached new heights across entertainment, medicine, and the arts.

Photo above: Lagos, is the city and chief port, Lagos state, Nigeria. Until 1975 it was the capital of Lagos state, and until December 1991 it was the federal capital of Nigeria. 

Few individual nations on the African continent have captured the popular imagination or escaped monolithic African tropes as outsized in cultural impact as Nigeria. This has occurred as the result of a number of factors, chief among them the steady three decade expansion of Nigerian immigration throughout the world leaving few places bereft of the reach of the Diaspora has and led to a larger footprint  recognized the world over. An NPR report said:Migration Policy Institute study shows first- and second-generation Nigerians are typically more educated and more likely to hold professional jobs than the general U.S. population. According to a New York Times report, experts say there could be wide-ranging economic effects following the travel ban.

According to Pew Research: As of 2017, there were about 348,000 Nigerian immigrants living in the U.S., making Nigeria the top birthplace among African immigrants in the country. Around six-in-ten black Nigerian immigrants in the U.S. (59%) had a bachelor’s degree or more education – a share roughly double that of the overall American population.

Representation and visibility is high. In sports, it is dominated  by the Greek born professional basketball phenom Giannis Sina Ugo Antetokounmpo (above) aka the Greek Freak of the Milwaukee Bucks.

 

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Comedian Yvonne Orji,  one of the stars of the hit HBO’s series Insecure, preformed to a packed Howard Theatre rolling with laughter in her first HBO comedy special, Yvonne Orji: Momma, I Made It! in 2020. The one woman show depicted her both celebrating and poking fun at her strict, formative Nigerian-American upbringing, and spoke to her unique journey from pre-med to comedy.

New York Times bestselling author  and humorist  Luvvie Ajayi Jones,  who is widely credited with coining the popular catchphrase “Get You A Nigerian Friend” which is both the subject of her latest book  and a hugely popular story in trendy fashion magazine Elle.

 

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In that piece, Jones jokingly told  Elle magazine its success was most likely largely the benefits of befriending Nigerian, “Nigerians are world-renowned loudmouths who happen to exist in every place on earth, roll deep, and have a reputation for cleverness. We are legion, so hear us roar. I think everyone needs a Nigerian friend, pretend cousin, or auntie in their lives. In a world where fear rules our lives and we get used to cowering, we need to surround ourselves with some rowdy energy that takes up space unapologetically. That’s where Nigerians come in. Not saying others aren’t this, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi in Naijas. We are the parliamentarians of Team No Chill. We will add color to your life. We will loan you bravado if you ever need it.”

When my friend Dr. Temitope Foster returned from a sojourn to her native country for the homegoing of her Grandma Labo, the Atlanta, Georgia based Gastroeneterologist, began posting photos from her trip on Instagram.

The garments were strikingly gorgeous and visually captivating. Foster says the style of fashion known as Aso Ebi, is a  singular look associated with your crew and its reputation. Although the term Ebi is more similar to “mi gente” than to family. What in fact makes it significantly individual is that it is not connected to Africana or sub-Saharan traditions but a style popularized in the near east, Turkey, and the Levant. Even the cloth is named after the Turkish capitol of Ankara.

Urban Dictionary: aso ebi (Pronounced ASHO EYBEE)
Nigerian outfits made from matching fabric to be worn by a group of people to a party, wedding, or funeral as a uniform. Wearing a certain aso ebi identifies the group of wearers. For instance, at a wedding, all the bride’s friends might wear blue and gold, the bride’s family might wear white and gold, and the groom’s friends might wear black and pink, and so on. Usually at weddings, the various fabrics for the aso ebi are decided by the bride, and are then announced to all the guests months in advance so they can prepare their outfits. Guests are usually expected to buy the aso ebi from the bride, but close friends and family members and certain prominent individuals may be presented with the aso ebi as a gift. Aso ebi for parties and funerals are generally simple, but aso ebi for weddings may involve many complex changes with entirely different aso ebi for different days of the wedding, and for the reception.

Of its cultural import, Temi says “it’s related to identification with a “western” style crew or group of friends in this context. “We’ve sort of made these prints our own at a party it’s a way to rep your clique. And the pattern is picked before the party so these aren’t family prints or anything.”

The word aso in Yoruba means cloth and ebi denotes family, so Aso ebi can be described as a family cloth usually worn during funerals or family ceremonies. However, the practice is now beyond family dressing because strangers of a celebrant can wear the Aso ebi. From the mid 1960s to the late 1970s, imported lace and george were incorporated into Nigerian fabrics and they became popular items used for Aso ebi. Increased demand for handcrafted traditional dresses such as Agbada led to a resurgence of tailors and fashion designers specialized in making native attires. The tailors strived to meet the increasing demand and designs of uniform dressing, sometimes with the aid of the fashion pages of magazines to make style choices. The rise of Aso ebi also coincided with an intense market

“Why will your life be better for having a Nigerian who you can call friend or family? Let me break down the reasons.” Jones writes in Elle. “We are amazing verbal fighters. We don’t even have to know how to physically fight because our tongues alone can beat anyone down. Our opponents won’t have the will to box us because we will have already destroyed them with our words.”

.

 

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Foster says that because “my mother lost her mom at an early age, she was a surrogate mother to my mom and therefore a grandma to me.”

Nigerians are extra AF and we’re not sorry about it. Our weddings are proof because Nigerians use holy matrimony as an occasion to do the utter most with the most. We have costume changes, money dances, and all the pomp and circumstance one can imagine could be part of such a moment. Elle

Foster completed her undergraduate studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1997 and  her gastroenterology fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where additionally, as a fellow in the Specialty Training and Advanced Research (STAR) program she received a Master’s degree in clinical research.

Prior to that she attended Mount Sinai School of Medicine and remained there for her residency which she completed in 2005. Dr. Foster considers New York City her second hometown.

 

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“I think we did you proud grandma, 93 years is no small feat. Thank you for all the love and guidance you gave us.”

 

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Fashion and family 👗: @r.a.f.i.a.t 💄👑: @enitan_dmakeuproom 👠: @enricocuini 👒: @turbantempest
🍹 fresh palm wine : @sagrielleventsnig

 

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Getchu a Nigerian friend to get the ego boost that comes with it. Why? We balance out the insults we might throw your way with ultimate cheerleading and hypeman-dom. Can’t nobody gas you up like a Naija pesin, because we keep the same energy across the board. The way we celebrate you will make your head swell five times its size. At which point we will then say, “See your head like water balloon.”
Because, balance.

For Foster, balance is achieved through ritual, discipline, and joy. She is an active member in her church, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church where she serves on the health promotions ministry. She also supports a number of charitable organizations in Nigeria. In her free time Dr. Foster enjoys spending time with her very own Georgia peach, her five year old daughter Iré, traveling and seeking new food experiences.

“If you’re reading this, maybe you already have a Nigerian friend. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re thinking: “I mean I did go to school with some Nigerians, are we friends?” To that I ask, has their mom cooked for you? No? Then you’re probably not friends.

But don’t worry, it’s okay. It’s not too late for you.