Last Spring, we shared with your our budding partnership with the three small hamlets surrounding the seasonal Lake Seiga: Tooro Tondi, Seiga Baani Koira, and Belkou, in the southern Tillaberi region of Niger. Comprised of nomadic herders of cows, goats, sheep and camels, these villages are now primarily women, as the men migrate in search of pasturelands or work. Seiga was highly impacted by drought in 2013-14, their food stores and household incomes at an all time low. This last year has seen the transformative development of wells, gardens and a mentoring program for the three communities. Most exciting of all is the start of our partnership with regional artisans. Developing income generating activities for women results in greater economic influence in their household. Sales from craft products provide mothers with funds to supplement household needs, such as more nutritious food, clothes for their children, and money for medicine and education.
The Tuareg people of Seiga have a strong artisan tradition in a variety of crafts using wood, raw metals, akof (palm fronds), tezawen (reed grass), leather, naturally produced dyes, yarn and mirrors. The Bellah (class of former slave) women of Seiga primarily work with reed grass to create baskets and elaborate decorative mats that may be used as placemats, trivets or home decor. Very few women have the knowledge of how to make the most elaborate item, the Teydeyint decorated tent wall mat. There is a great variety of designs for the teydeyint and the efartay (smaller decorative mat) that may be adapted for a variety of different products. Along with the Bellah people in Seiga is a smaller number of Inaden families, members of the Tuareg crafts class who specialize in metal, wood and leather work.
Previously, Seiga artisans were only able to produce when they had the means to purchase the raw materials in local Bankilare or Tegue markets, due to limited funds and desertification in the region decimating the bulk of collectable local resources. This method of acquiring materials was subject to seasonal availability - most notably, the reed grass needed to produce their traditional decorative mats. To remove this obstacle, a storage shed is being constructed to allow for the purchase of supplies when they are at their lowest price - making it possible for the artisans to stock what they need to produce all year long.
Illia Addoh is a master leather artisan of the National Museum in Niamey. He has had success leading trainings and workshops with RAIN co-operatives, including the Tuareg leather artisans in Agadez. His expertise will bring the Seiga artisans together to form a co-operative, pooling their resources as they build their capacity, access to markets and production quality. Trainings and workshops in new designs will introduce new products into the local markets and open the door to markets beyond Niger. A shade hangar will foster collaboration, reinforcing the solidarity of their group, both socially and economically.
Up next: photos and personal stories of how your caring support has made such a difference for the people of Seiga!
Examples of Bella crafts:Efartay: small decorative straw matTeydeyint: large decorated tent wall mat.Leyfey: winnowing panLgaraygaraya/Isanam: decorated hanging leather panels
Inaden examples:Adefur: leather pillow Agadut/Agalagut: leather bag to hold water or butter Tebawunt: large leather decorative travel sac for camelsDecorative spoons and spice mortars
The 16 Tuareg women who make up the Albaye leather cooperative in Agadez have recently teamed up with other women artisans in Ingall who primarily work in straw. This collaboration has led to beautiful leather & straw tote bags, a product not possible for these two groups on their own.
The collaboration continues with new products this summer with some help from a true master artisan - Illiah Addoh, Director of Artisans at the National Museum in Niamey. Organized by Albaye co-op president Oumma Amma, Three artisans from the Ingall straw cooperative joined the 16 members of Albaye to learn ways to improve their craft and make new items.
We're proud to share two new products from this learning collaboration - straw woven platters and leather handbags.We are truly excited by the high quality of these items as well as their stunning beauty - the traditional Tuareg patterns taking on a new modern look in completely different ways.
The tote bags, hand bags and platters will be available for sale on our online nomadic marketplace in the very near future - check back to get yours!
A very warm "thank you" to our supporters from RAIN staff and our artisan partners as they develop their skills and expand their livelihoods.
RAIN will be partnering with the African American Civil War Museum of Washington D.C. in a collaborative West African doll project. African American Civil War Museum in Washington D.C. The mission of the museum is to preserve and tell the stories of the United States Colored Troops and African American involvement in the American Civil War. The museum has interest in the culture of the Wodaabe, as reflected in their exhibit focusing on the role of Wodaabe soldiers of the Union Army. Over 179,000 African American men served in over 160 units, as well as in the Navy and in support positions. The Wodaabe, historically elusive members of the Fulani people, were a part of this chapter of pivotal American history.
Looking to tie together the culture and the time period, the dolls will be designed in authentic African style, donned in traditional clothing, designed by Wodaabe artisans in Niger recruited by RAIN. The co-operative of Wodaabe women artisans in the hamlet of Foudouk has recently achieved independence of RAIN (in line with our goals of sustainability). The particular Wodaabe women who will likely be creating the dolls have yet to be confirmed, however they will be from RAIN partner communities, possibly including some of the Foudouk women. The Wodaabe are famous for their embroidery.
Seacoast Sewing and Quilting of Portsmouth NH is generously contributing their time and talents sewing the finished product. With a tradition of giving back to their communities, they've supported the efforts of Neighbors Helping Newborns, Project Linus, End 68 Hours of Hunger, and their local schools and Girl Scout Troops. Owner Jill Patsfield expressed: "We're thrilled to help RAIN engage their artisans in a product for a national museum and to take part in telling this unique chapter in American history."
Proceeds from doll sales will support RAIN programs in Niger, including support for our artisan cooperative programs. This will be the first collaboration emerging from RAIN as we produce a series of limited edition dolls available for sale Summer 2014 through the RAIN website, or through the museum. In the meantime, we'll be sharing updates as the artisans do their magic creating a collectible piece of cultural and historical art for all to learn from and enjoy.
Niger’s nomads are skilled craftspeople; the artistry trade is traditional to certain castes of people and has long supported them. Traditional skills have eroded over time, and fewer young women learn the skills their mothers and grandmothers knew. Keeping traditional culture alive is part and parcel of what we do. Members of our artisan co-operatives act as cultural ambassadors to the next generation. As they earn more, learn new designs and expand their markets, interest grows in the community. With help from RAIN, co-op artisans play a key role in designing products and choosing materials for both local sales and the U.S. Now, these efforts will receive a real boost in potential for U.S. markets.
Since 2005, we've been privileged to have Illiah Addoh, master leatherworker and head of the Zinder Leather Artisan Cooperative at Niger’s National Museum, provide training to RAIN artisans in how to create their culturally traditional products within modern contexts. The next step: connecting those products with U.S. distribution channels.Enter Andrea Williamson. Using her fifteen years of experience in small business sales and marketing, Andrea has focused the last five years as an "international boutique matchmaker" to help artisans in more than 50 countries suceed in U.S. markets. "I became fascinated with the unbridled creativity emerging from these artisans," says Andrea. "from the incredible items fashioned from upcycled materials in the Phillipines to croched and quilted creations from South Africa, artisans come upon frequent stumbling blocks, such as language, import laws, and quality consistency, that keep their products from this channel of distribution. Both the artisans and boutiques in the U.S. then miss out on a great opportunity."
"I'm inspired by Bess' vision of empowering nomadic women in Niger to bring their skills to the next level while providing for their families in the face of such extreme poverty, and am excited about what these women are creating - fabulous leather purses and tote bags by the Tuareg ladies, and the Wodaabe women expressing their rich culture with colorful embroidered textiles. I feel confident that with a little bit of creativity, we can help to open up this channel for these artisans."
A country like Niger at times seems worlds away to those in the U.S. If we can bring more hand crafted cultural treasures to our friends here - that's another direct connection to the nomadic women of the Sahel and Sahara, with new liveihoods and support for local schools as the result.
Thank you for paving the way to empowerment for nomadic women!
P.S. Coming soon: The RAIN online Shopify store!
Wodaabe artisans take the prize for RAIN
At the yearly Cure Salee Festival in In'gall, the Wodaabe women artisans who create products based on their legendary embroidery heritage joined Bess in proudly displaying their unique wares for sale. Though there are many throughout the year, September is the "official" nomadic festival marking the end of the wet season and the start of the dry season. For centuries, pastoral people have brought their herds to the salt licks and to take part in salt cures for themselves as well. It's time for reuiniting with other clans, planning for the upcoming season, and to meet potential marraige partners. The local celebrations are fascinating, especially the Wodaabe dancing and Tuareg camel races. It was quite a spectacle: both Wodaabe and Tuareg performers made appearances ifor various competitions -- Tuaregs with donkeys decked in full wedding regalia and camels fully outfitted in their traveling gear and good luck charms, women drumming and men dancing; and the Wodaabe men performing their gerewol dances for potential partners.
This year, RAIN artisans were awarded First Prize at the festival for a blouse made of traditional woven cotton featuring a hand embroidered cell phone pocket in traditional Wodaabe design. The judges declared the piece a perfect marraige of traditional craft with modern design. The prize? 4 sacks of cattle feed, 2 sacks of rice, 2 tee shirts and $100! Our booth received a special visit from Niger Prime Minister and RAIN friend Brigi Rafini to wish us "Bon Courage!"
Meanwhile, back in Agadez, we had the chance to talk with artisan Ouma Aama.
Ouma Amaa is the head of the RAIN Albaye Leather Cooperative as well as president of all Agadez women artisans. Ouma, a leather artisan in the Tuareg tradition, was absolutely thrilled when RAIN won the embroidery contest.
Ouma: "Thank you, Bess. RAIN is the only organization in Agadez that recognizes and promotes the traditional work of women artisans." She extends her best wishes and thanks to supporters like you for making this work possible.
Straw + Leather = Fabulous!
In a perfect marraige of two traditions, the women artisans of In'gall, who work primarily in straw, are collaborating with the RAIN Albaye leather artisans to create gorgeous tote bags in vibrant colors of Tuareg tradition: magenta, ochre and deep turquoise. We can't wait to offer these gems of beauty and good karma for sale in the U.S. - visit our website very soon if you'd like to own one for yourself or a good friend. You won't find these at Macy's!
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