Robe; Riga


'Saki' gowns like these were a religious and political uniform worn to show Islamic faith and allegiance, as well as wealth and status. Many gowns were made for the markets as everyday wear and even as currency, but they were not accessible to all as they were expensive. Hanging from shoulder to ground, such gowns are worn over embroidered trousers and long-sleeved shirts. Leather slippers or boots and a cap or turban complete a man's costume. High quality gowns mark a man's membership of, or ties to, the indigenous Hausa-Fulani aristocracy of the region under the influence of the Sokoto Caliphate. Embroidery designs include motifs that predate the rise of Islam in the region, as well as Islamic geometric and mathematical symbolism. The robe or riga, is normally embroidered by a Qur’anic scholar or malam with cotton or threads made from the cocoons of the wild African silk worm. The “eight knives” motif on this gown is a popular one. It is a protective device and probably derives from horned or pointed designs of various Islamic arts in the region. The motif may also signify victory in war. Squares are Qur’anic symbols of God’s creation and power and correspond to the four corners of the world. Motifs of multiple or divided squares, sometimes placed within a circle, also relate to protective “magic squares”, thus giving the gown an equivalent protective power to that of an amulet. Before their expedition ship was wrecked in October 1857 Aga had visited Nupe and its capital Bida, with Lieutenant Glover. Glover exchanged gifts with the Emir of Nupe, Etsu Masaba, who gave the explorers a “bodyguard” to watch them during their collecting and surveying excursions. This embroidered ‘robe of honour’ would almost certainly have been among the gifts the explorers received from the Emir.