The community, as at 2011, was estimated to have a population of 302,990. It is the fourth largest city in the state after Ibadan, Ogbomoso and Oyo.
The primary industry of Iseyin is cotton-based textiles, and it is reputed as the home of Aso Ofi or Aso Oke, a popular traditional fabric worn on special
occasions by the Yoruba usually for coronation, chieftaincy, wedding engagement, festivals, naming ceremony and other important events.
The city can be accessed via Ibadan, Oyo, and Abeokuta.
Weaving of Aso Ofi was said to have begun about four centuries ago Ile-Ife. It could be traced to the progenitor of Yoruba race, Oduduwa.
A recent bulletin by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi Ojaja II, said: “Aso Ofi was invented in Ile-Ife, the traditional headquarters of Yoruba race worldwide, and later taken to Iseyin by Olu Ofi from where it was made to spread across the world.”
Fibres used to weave the cloth were made locally in the olden days. But in these days, they are also sourced from neighbouring states, apart from synthetic fibres imported for the special traditional cloth.
Weaving of Aso-Ofi, according to oral tradition, is as old as Iseyin, founded about 1732 by one Ebedi, a refugee warrior from Ilesa.
Ebedi reportedly settled at a place now known as Oke-Ebedi, where he met some natives of Iseyin and introduced Aso-Ofi weaving trade to them.
The maiden Aso-Ofi festival was observed on September 27, 2016, during the World Tourism Day.
The festival was conceptualised to showcase and celebrate a locally made fabric in Oyo State, which is now an internationally accepted brand.
The celebration created opportunities to harness the potential that abound, which include trade and commercial activities, employment and job creation.
Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr, Toye Arulogun, stated that financial institutions “have also been having serious and genuine engagements with the weavers and marketers while export opportunities are also being exploited.”
The 2017 edition of the festival, held from September 15 to 16, 2017, attracted Iseyin sons and daughters at home and in the Diaspora, as well as national and international tourists and traders.
The highlights of the two-day event included rally/carnival round the city of Iseyin, Aso-Ofi arts and crafts exhibition, Aso-Ofi weaving competition, colloquium, musical concerts, parade by the four zones of the Iseyin Weavers and Marketers Association and other stakeholders.
The festival also witnessed presentation of Pace-setter Entertainment and Recognition Awards (PERA), cultural performance, awards presentation, Aso-Ofi fashion show, and foundation laying stone of Aso-Ofi International Tourism Market.
Types of Aso Ofi
There are different types of Aso-Ofi. But the three among them have stood the test of time.
They are Etu, Sanyan and Alaari. The difference among the three types has always been colour.
While the characteristic of Etu has to do with dark blue with stripes, Sanyan is carton brown with white stripes. Alaari is crimson.
Other types of Aso-Ofi include eya, takunsi, damask, silk, cotton, net, metallic, monogramming, wire-to-wire, super net, painting, double weaving, and check. But they are mainly of modern age.
The Aso-Ofi is for the rich in the olden days because it is costly. The rich in those days usually wore sanyan, alaari and etu. But the poor would put on a typical cloth known as ‘kijipa.’
Those who wore kijipa were taken as lazy.
Kijipa was considered as an ideal cloth for the have-nots, usually referred to as borokini (commoners) because it was rugged and could be used for three or more years. The durability of kijipa made the Yoruba to tag it “akogi-ma-ya” (meaning ‘that which is not easily torn’).
Hence, Aso-Ofi provides the Yoruba an opportunity to express their perception on whether a person is industrious or from a rich family or lazy.
Also, the size of Aso-Ofi is indicative of social status.
There is “agbada nla” (big agbada), for chieftains as well as “esiki” also known as dasiki, which s a short garment with slits on the sides.
Though esiki is for fashion in the contemporary days, it was worn by commoners in the olden days.
There is a Yoruba adage that says: “Kijipa asa oke, ofi aso agba, agba ti ko rowo r’ofi, ko ra kijipa. Sanyan ni baba aso, etu ni oba ewu, alaari l’atele.”
The adage has been interpreted by experts as: “Kijipa, a lazy man’s cloth, Ofi, the cloth of elders. An elder who cannot afford Ofi, should buy kijipa. Sanyan is the father of cloth. Etu is the king of cloth. Alaari is next to it.”
Kente, fabrics that are handwoven in Ghana is similar to Aso-Ofi in the South West of Nigeria. Kente has gained global recognition, but it cannot be categorically said that aso-ofi has gained such global recognition.
The second thing is that there are many things you can use Aso-Ofi for. It can be used for shoes, bags, bedspreads, furniture, jeans, jackets and so on.
Those other variants will lead us to economic viability of the textile itself.
“There is a trade in Iseyin that we’ll like to tap into. For us to tap into that trade, we need to modernise it, develop it, and we are starting to structure the market by establishing this international tourism market. We call it tourism market because there is a museum in it.
“Without modernisation, it is likely to go into extinction because they have competitors all over the world. The Chinese are producing Aso-Ofi.
“People went to school in Iseyin by money from this trade. In every home, there is a weaver.