World traveler and AUC Press author Lesley Lababidi went last month to Bida, Nigeria, for her official turbaning after being awarded the title Jikadiyan Gargajiyan Nupe “Ambassador of Cultural Heritage of Nupe land,” an honor bestowed on her for her longstanding contribution to documenting the heritage of the Nupe people, a Nigerian ethnic group principally settled in Niger State, in west-central Nigeria.
Lababidi has lived between Cairo and Nigeria for several decades. Her fascination and research in the Nupe heritage, and in particular the Masaga glassmakers, started five years ago. “I wanted to draw international attention to this rich cultural legacy that is on the precipice of extinction, snuffed out by the demands of modern life,” explained Lababidi. To raise awareness, she has blogged, published articles and books, participated in exhibitions about Nupe glassmaking, and more recently produced a documentary film about this greatly endangered craft.
The official notification letter announcing her title and turbaning reads: “This conferment is in recognition of your remarkable achievements in promoting Nupe cultural artifacts as well as the true love you have for Nupe people.”
The turbaning ceremony took place, in the town of Bida in the Niger State, headed by His Royal Highness, Alhaji Dr. Yahaya Abubakar CFR, Etsu Nupe and chairman of Niger State, Council of Traditional Rulers. “It was overwhelming and I doubt if I can ever recapture the magnificence of the event,” said Lababidi, who highlights parts of the “grand ceremony” in her blog post ‘Turbaned! Jikadiya Gargajiya.’
Lababidi recently commissioned a Lagos-based film company to produce the documentary ‘Legacy of Bida Glassmakers’ in order to record how raw glass—known as bikini glass—was once made and turned into beads and bangles, using the traditional methods of Nupe ancestors. “The documentary follows the secret formula of glassmaking that was handed down over centuries through oral history by the Masaga forefathers, using sand and an underground furnace.” According to Lababidi, glass artifacts have been made throughout different regions of sub-Saharan Africa for a millennium but it usually involved reworking imported glass, while in Nupe land glass is made from raw materials found in Bida and other parts of Nigeria.
“On November 24, 2019, the Masaga glassmakers successfully unearthed glass, which has not been produced for over 50 years,” writes Lababidi in her blog, recounting a highpoint during the making of the documentary. “It was the first and last time this laborious glassmaking craft was being replicated according to the Nupe tradition.” Watch an extract of the glassmaking.
Several weeks on, still reflecting on the personal significance of her new Nupe title, Lababidi added: “The place where one is born is not necessarily where one belongs . . . . This recognition is a great honor as it confirms that I am accepted by and belong to the Nupe community.”
The official turbaning announcement; Lababidi in local dress, getting ready of the official turbaning ceremony; Lababidi receiving a gift—traditional brass work made in Bida—from His Highness Etsu Nupe; Pieces of bikini glass, produced from raw materials and baked underground for five days.
Lesley Lababidi is the co-author of A Field Guide to the Street Names of Central Cairo (AUC Press, 2019) and the author of Cairo Practical Guide (AUC Press, 2011), Cairo: The Family Guide (AUC Press, 2010), and Cairo’s Street Stories: Exploring the City’s Statues, Squares, Bridges, Gardens, and Sidewalk Cafés (AUC Press, 2008).