Ladi Kwali – The Woman Behind The Nigerian 20 Naira Note

Ever wondered why she appeared on the Nigerian currency?

Let’s walk down the memory lane.
The woman behind 20 Naira note is Dr. Hadiza Ladi Dosei Kwali, the famous Nigerian Potter born in a remote village of Kwali, Gwari region in the Nigeria Capital Territory, Abuja.

She was born in 1925 to Gbagyi parents. Gbagyi is an ethnic group of people predominate in the central heart of Northern Nigeria, Abuja, the capital territory.
Her name Ladi means Born on Sunday. Ladi Kwali was born in Kwali, where pottery was believed to be a woman’s job.

As a child, Kwali was exposed to pottery through the traditional Gwari pottery-method of coiling and pinching, but she finessed her skills after serving her aunt.
Under her aunt, she learned the Gwarin Yamma method of coiling and pinching.

Having mastered the art, Ladi Kwali moved to Suleja and developed the Gwarin Yamma skills.

She made a large water storage pot (the randa), which she produced through beating from inside with a wooden paddle from coils of clay, which she perfects it with engraved decorated patterns. She decorated storage pot majorly for religious rites (the tulu), a household storage pot (the kasko), etc.

Most of her pottery works have symbolic patterns, including lizards, snakes, scorpions, chameleons, fishes, birds, and crocodiles.

Her clay works were mostly patronized by the then Emir of Abuja, Alhaji Suleman Barau, until 1950 when her work was noticed by a British studio potter, Michael Cardew, known as Baban Shaku, on a visit to the Emir’s Palace.

Michael Cardew was the Nigerian pottery officer in commerce and industry during the colonial era of the British government in Nigeria.

In 1952 Michael Cardew opened the Abuja Pottery Training Centre for learning, teaching and creating professional potters. He urged Ladi to join the Pottery center, which she later joined in 1954, becoming the first woman in the Center.

During her time in the Center, she acquired new skills such as wheel-throwing, kiln firing, stoneware, and glazing, which she added with her Gwari Yamma method.
She became popular with her innovation of making glazed dishes, beakers, bowls with animal sgraffito. This feat took her name not only out of Abuja, but her name went global because of her great works.

Although she learned new ways from Michael Cardew, Ladi Kwali, however made most of her works with her traditional hand-built techniques glazed and fired in a high-temperature kiln.
She inspired many women who ventured into pottery-making.
In 1965, four women opened a pottery center, Dakin Gwari, in Abuja.

Ladi Kwali, though her association with Cardew, became a global name with her works in most notably Galleries like the Berkeley Galleries in London.
She worked with the Abuja Pottery Training Center. Teaching and demonstrations had been her thing both at home and abroad until her death.

In 1963, she was honored as a Member of the British Empire’s Most Excellent Order (MBE).
She received an honorary degree in 1977 by the Ahmadu Bello University.

She was not just honored the most significant award for academic achievement – the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) insignia, she appeared on the Nigeria twenty Naira note.
In 1981, She was made an Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). She also won an Award for Excellence during the tenth International Exhibition for Ceramic Art at the Smithsonian Institute hosted in Washington, DC.


Ladi Kwali - The Woman Behind The Nigerian 20 Naira Note
Ladi Kwali teaching at the Abuja Pottery Training Centre – image credit:

After her death on the 12th of August, 1984, the Abuja Training Pottery Centre was renamed after her (Ladi Kwali Pottery Centre). Major roads in Abuja and Niger State were named after the famous Potter.

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