In Nigeria, you can tell which part of the country one comes from, from one’s dressing and accents. When one wears a cap and a kaftan, he tells the world that he came from Arewa (Northern Nigeria). Cap and kaftan have almost certainly become the inaudible announcement that ‘I am a northerner’. But when you come to the North, you can also differentiate which part of the North one comes from from one’s cap and how it is worn—like identification marks.
One thing Borno has been known for is the mastery of the art of cap making: theirs are always sparkling, closely-knitted and always glossy. Many wonder, rightly, if these are done with the use of a machine. ‘I have been confronted several times in the streets of Abuja, mosques, restaurants, etcetera, by people who would ask me to get them the type of cap I wore or sell it to them', a cap dealer, Mallam Ibrahim Mala said, noting that it is the tactic he employs to market his caps.
‘I will simply wear it and go to Al-Noor Mosque in Abuja to tempt and lure customers’, he further added. Asked if he knows a place where similar caps are made as it obtains in Borno, he said ‘my customers always tell me that they can’t find them anywhere in the whole of the country and that is true’. Kangarmaka in Maiduguri and Bama local government, attacked by Boko Haram in 2014, are the centres of this artistic wonder! Kangarmaka became popular around 1999 and ever since, it has become a household name in every part of the state and beyond. This week, these reporters explore this unique centre of prolific artistry.
Almost every house is either a small cap-making centre, a cap laundry or at least, has some members of it who are into the art. It is a fact that there is nowhere else in this state, or beyond, with such a large concentration of cap makers. These reporters had pictures of caps as they were spread on the rooftop of several houses to dry.
Kangarmaka is one part of Maiduguri that is densely populated. During the peak of Boko Haram crisis, it was among the areas converted into no-go areas. At a point, a massive crackdown was launched in the area by the defunct Joint Task Force where many people who had nothing to do with the insurgency were rounded up. Activities that continued without break became a record time low.
Those who, out of sheer luck, survived the crackdown had to either flee the state altogether or move out of the area. These reporters learnt that it is the reason why there are many small bases of cap makers scattered in different parts of the state capital.
There are hundreds of people working in the place: some design, some weave, some dye, some wash, some sell and some repair—it is no doubt a local factory. They use needle and thread to unleash their artistic ingenuity on what they call bakta.
Alai Modu, a cap maker and launderer, told Yerwa Express News that ‘cap making requires a lot of patience… one puts all his attention, time and everything into it. Indeed, many think it is about needle and thread, but it is far more than that’.
First, one has to go through, even if informally, theoretical training for some space of time before the practical aspect follows, where one is then put through such things as holding a needle, close-knitting and etcetera. Some prefer to weave vertically or horizontally, depending on the training they had.
Second and the most complex and technical part is the design. Before any other thing, using a pen and a ruler, one must design a sample of the cap one has in mind to weave on the bakta. Perhaps this accounts for the accuracy in the patterns, strikes, and lines. The art of design is a specialty of its own. It is with these that the embroidery works on the bakta is carried out.
Third, whether short, tall, big or small a cap is, it is determined by the size of the bakta, while the quality and beauty, by the quality of the thread and most importantly the expertise. Despite the fact that the technical knowhow of the art has spread around, due to reasons aforementioned, the expertise in this place is unbeatable.
Some of us here use eight needles concurrently to make one cap. This is the first-grade cap and the expertise can’t be found anywhere else in this country except here’, Alai Modu added.
Following all these is k3lta, meaning coupling—the top, which is separately woven, and the body of the cap. This is also a specialty of its own.
The caps bear different local brand names, most often after where and when the cap was made, or even the person who wears it most, especially if he is a prominent personality. For instance, a cap designed and woven during the 2015 general election was named Buhari—and it is to date. Generally, caps are classified into Damanga, Yawuri, Bongol and the royal Dara.
Apart from cap making, the place is also known for its notoriety in unique cap laundry. With hundred percent accuracy, one can tell a cap washed in Kangarmaka—the glossiness, the sparkling and the shining is typical only of the place. With detergent, starch and gum Arabic, they add their ingenuity to give a distinguishing laundry.
‘Sometimes when I watch television, I see the caps I personally made or washed worn by senators, ministers and governors. There are caps worn by the president which were made here’, a launderer, Baba Konto said.
When these caps are made, washed and taken to places like Abuja, Lagos and sometimes Dubai, Ndjamena, Pakistan, etc, they are sold as high as N40,000 each depending on the thread, design and expertise.
Finally, the Borno State Cap-makers Association appealed to the government and the private sector to not only stop on patronage, but also fully intervene in the business to expand the scope of the services they offer as the state will yield a lot of benefits from it.
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