The Efik traditional attire is among the brightest and loveliest in Nigeria. It’s a true delight to watch a crowd of Calabar people dressed for a formal event or a festival in their authentic way. If you have at least once seen them during a wedding or at festive events, you have probably noticed that they are all dressed in a number of very particular items. Let’s figure out what they are and what they mean.
Calabar traditional attire and the ancestors of the nation
It’s said that Calabar people are always following their ancestor’s traditions and customs in everything, starting with the way of life and ending with the dressing. Of course, in their everyday life they get dressed in a usual modern way but when the time comes for something special, like a wedding or another party, they find the most unique and most authentic pieces of clothing that can show their ethnic belonging.
It’s interesting that every item has its particular name that has lasted through centuries and it’s great that Calabar people cherish their heritage so carefully that even the oldest items of their dressing have remained preserved and as beautiful as years ago.
Calabar people have very precise dressing traditions for men and women. For instance, a traditional male outfit consists of the following items:
This is a wrapper that’s used by Calabar men for formal occasions. Mostly, you can see such items worn for wedding ceremonies by both the groom (if the wedding is finished in an authentic style) and the guests. This wrapper is wider than the ones women wear. It usually reaches a man’s ankles and is decorated with some authentic ornaments. Sometimes, the ornaments are hand-made and sometimes it’s simply necessary to purchase a suitable fabric with the pattern on it. You can see such wrappers used by the Calabars’ closest neighboring ethnic groups. The materials used for such wrappers are usually the best ones a person can afford. It can be cotton or modern types of silk, which astonish viewers by the play of light and shadows in the folds.
This is an item that’s normally paired with usobo. A shirt maid out of cotton or silk is a natural part of many Nigerian outfits. Some styles have undergone transformations during the centuries of wearing but in most cases, the general look still remains the same.
The main idea of the chieftaincy shirt is that it’s long and loose and that the chest area is decorated with something: an ornament, some embroidery, or just a decorative line of buttons. Quite often, the shirt is worn with a kind of neck scarf that’s knotted on the chest and has loose hanging ends reaching the knees. This scarf serves as a decoration and usually matches the wrapper fabric.
In most cases, these shirts have long sleeves but recently, there has a appeared a tendency to shorten the sleeves for the comfort up to the elbows. It’s possible that the hem of this shirt will be decorated with a lovely line of embroidery or even lace. All decorations are possible providing they match the general style.
The attire is often completed and finished with the help of appropriate accessories. Canes are among the most popular ones not only within the Calabar nation but everywhere around Nigeria. A cane is a necessary accessory of an elegant man who’s attending a festive event. Besides that, Calabar men often wear long strings of beads, quite big ones made out of natural materials and thus quite heavy.
Other accessories include hats and caps of different types. Quite often, Calabar men wear black.
European bowler hats, which look especially elegant when paired with the traditional garments. Footwear usually looks like something comfortable and matching.
If the occasion is really important and very formal (like a wedding), there will most likely be embroidered shoes resembling the European “prince Albert” style. They will probably match the color and even the pattern of the wrapper.
Outfits for women also consist of several separate parts.
A blouse without sleeves
This is a very general name for a huge variety of diverse items that can come in all possible styles and have any possible decorative details. For example, such a blouse can totally look like a bandeau top without sleeves, shoulder straps, and anything else, leaving a woman’s shoulders exposed completely. Other variations may have shoulder straps, thin or wide, or even small sleeves. Quite often, such blouses are short and look like crop tops, exposing the belly area.
When it comes to a Calabar marriage attire, such a blouse can be richly decorated with embroidery, beads, rhinestones, and other attractive elements. They usually stick close to the body, fitting lightly like the second skin. This feature makes these blouses so attractive: they emphasize every line of a woman’s torso.
A female wrapper
Wrappers combined with sleeveless blouses make the entire outfit look like a dress. This is a common way of getting dressed for Calabar women even though sometimes they do wear one-piece dresses. However, for a wedding ceremony, a Calabar bride will wear a short gown or a skirt that exposes her legs with decorative pieces worn on them, too. Calabar brides who get dressed in a completely traditional way are often barefoot.
A wedding gown
As it was said above, Calabar brides often wear short wedding outfits. They have a name of their own and are called “Ofod Ukod Anwang”. These outfits usually consist of a crop top that barely covers the chest and reveals some of the stomach and a short skirt. In some cases, either the blouse will be longer or the waistband of the skirt will be wider and they will meet in the stomach area. This outfit shows the bride as a maiden who’s a desirable choice for any man.
Another wedding option is called “Onyonyo”. This is a long and flowing dress that looks a lot like European ones with a tight top and a wide voluminous skirt. Such a dress turns every woman into a queen with a regal staff and an elaborate crown.
The brightest accessories, surely, belong to brides. They usually have richly decorates staffs that are called to give a lady a queenly appearance. Indeed, Calabar brides look like queens with those staffs in their hands. Another thing that makes them look like queens is a headpiece that towers over their tall hairstyles like a huge crown.
Such decorative elements usually have a golden color and it’s a tradition to decorate them richly with beads, rhinestones and everything that represents luxury.
Beads are another detail of Calabar outfits for ladies and the more luxurious the dress is the brighter and more prominent the beads will be. Sometimes, multiple strings of beads are worn around a bride’s hips to attract the attention to her feminine beauty.
In separate cases, beads are worked into nets and collars that cover a bride’s shoulders and upper chest. In most cases, they are chosen to contrast to color of the outfit and bring in a refreshing note. Yet, they are colorful and bright in all cases.
This is what we should know about the Calabar traditional outfit and its types for different life situations. Festive events in the Calabar lands are well worth watching purely for the sake of the brightness and authenticity of these outfits.