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The lost legacy of Bida Bikini

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Sir: At the crossroads of West Central Nigeria is the Nupe city of Bida in Niger State, where Masagá glassmakers maintain the culture and tradition to manufacture raw black glass, a method that has remained a secret for nearly two centuries. This patriarchal organisation is composed of guild members who distinguish themselves by the claim that they originally migrated from Egypt to Nupeland in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Masagá glassmakers of Bida are renowned for their production of glass beads and bangles made from modern glass and from locally manufactured raw glass known as bikini. Bikini is a black shiny molten glass produced and used by Masagá crafts people before civilisation and the importation of modern glass bottles into the area.  Bikini served, as the main raw material for glass work between the mid-19th and 20th Centuries. But, due to expense and difficulty in sourcing the raw materials, the production and usage of bikini glass was phased out and replaced by easily sourced recycled glass.

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At the moment, the Masagá glass production is near extinction as the only known survivor of the secret formula and technology of the Bikini glassmaking is a ninety-year-old man. Without mincing words, the knowledge to retain the produce of bikini glass is in jeopardy of becoming extinct, as the threat of a lost legacy looms. However, there seems to be a ray of hope to revive and sustain the culture and tradition of Bikini glass production, as the Masagá glassmakers agreed in November 2019 to recreate bikini glass.

It is the hope of every Nupe sons and daughters that the Masaga esteemed culture of Bikini glass making does not die. Permit me to use this medium to salute His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr) Yahaya Abubakar, the Etsu of Nupe and Chairman of the Niger State Council of Traditional rulers for his fervent support of Nupe culture and heritage.

By Lesley Lababidi Jakadiyan Gargajian

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