By Victoria Rovine
University of Florida (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Kalabari Ijo peoples

Pelete Bite (cloth)


H. 172.72 cm (68")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1990.625


For over 100 years (in some areas for over 500 years), European cloth has been traded into sub-Saharan Africa. Imported cloths often come to be associated with high status, for they are expensive and unusual. Whenever they used European cloth, African consumers adjusted it to suit their own tastes, sometimes unraveling and reweaving it, or re-dyeing it locally. Pelete bite, made by Kalabari women in southern Nigeria is perhaps the most dramatic illustration of such adaptation of European cloth to local taste. Using a razor or a penknife, women carefully and selectively remove threads from machine woven gingham or madras cloth, removing only those threads necessary to change the color of the cloth in certain areas. They must analyze carefully the existing pattern to determine how to create a new pattern, changing striped cloth into checked cloth, for example, by strategically removing sets of threads (Eicher). The resulting cloth has the status of both imported cloth and fine local workmanship.