This Talented African Woman With No Formal Education Is A Lecturer At Harvard
Nike Davies-Okundaye aka “‘Nike Davies’” aka “‘Nike Twin Seven Seven’” aka “‘Nike Olaniyi’” aka “‘Mummy Nike’” is a Nigerian batik and textile designer, considered to be the foremost designer on the west coast of Africa.
Not many in Nigeria appear to know about her unique story. But in other lands, especially Europe and America, she is a ‘goddess’ whose works are cherished by kings and presidents.
Without a doubt, the story of Nike Okundaye, the face behind the huge success story of Nike Arts Gallery, located in Lagos, Abuja and Osogbo, is as compelling as it is inspiring.
At a time when young Nigerians are in desperate need of a role model and inspiration in what self-belief and hard work can achieve, Nike’s rise from the status of an unknown village girl born into a seeming insignificant family in a rustic village to a globally celebrated icon would make an A-list inspirational novel.
Born in her native village of Ogidi, Ijumu Local Government Area, Kogi State, young Nike had high dreams about what type of future she wanted for herself. But her dreams were truncated even before they could take form when she lost her mother at age six. “I was six when my mother died,” she said with a tinge of sadness.
With the blow inflicted on her dreams by her mother’s death, young Nike was taken away to live with her grandmother. At the time, many believed that by going to live with an old woman, the young girl’s future had been compromised. But events have since proved that destiny may indeed have been at work in her journey through life.
She had her first contact with the world of arts through her grandmother, who at the time, was the leader of cloth weavers in the community.
She said: “I come from a family of craftsmen. My parents were crafts people from Ogidi in Ijumu Local Government Area, Kogi State. My life as an artist is something that I was born with. I started weaving at the age of six.
“I started with weaving different things, including adire, a traditional Yoruba hand-painted cloth design. As a matter of fact, I can say everything that had to do with textile. They taught me how to weave, using a little calabash. Gradually, I graduated to using bigger materials.”
Though Nike was six years old and barely able to tell the difference between her left and right hands, she already had a picture of the kind of future she wanted.
“My grandmother was the head of all the weavers in our community. So, even as a little child, I already had a dream that I would own a big studio when I grew up. People came from different areas to buy the cloth from her. So, at that time, I already sensed that I might not have the opportunity to go to school.”
With the death of her mother, her grandmother, whose responsibility it was to look after her, did not pamper her in any form. She ensured that the virtue of hard work was instilled in Nike’s young, impressionable mind.
At that time, young Nike, unaware of the reason behind her great grandmother’s action, would cry, believing that she was being unnecessarily punished. “I would cry and lament because I thought she was wicked and punishing me. But today, I always thank her for inculcating in me the virtue of hard work. It was through her that I learnt that you must persevere in whatever you do and never give up on your dreams.”
Although she lost her mother at a time she needed her most, Nike believes that destiny might have been involved in the way her life played out, including her mother’s death. According to her, the mother was a very hard working young woman who would have spared nothing to ensure that her child got a good education up to the university level.
“Even at that young age, I knew that my mother was very hard working. And I am very sure that if she had not died, she would have trained me up to university level. My father was a farmer. He also did several other things like basket weaving to supplement his income. So, definitely, I would have been educated very well if my mother had not died.