FROM SISAL FIBRE TO BASKETS
Since the inception, I have been promoting the work in which the ladies do, as their prime contractor no longer requires there produce, leaving them with no source of income and just a prayer for the rains to come for the crops to grow.
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Now the Agave Sisalana plant is a lovely looking large plant with leaves growing to and over a metre in length and each one has a sharp point at the end. First you must cut if the sharp point and then cut at the other end close to the base. A few leaves were taken in this manner and then a leaf was taken from the centre of the plant. In this circumstance you must peel away the large leaves to reveal a leaf lighter in colour and again do small incisions at either end, this type of leaf is known as the soft leave making the soft strings. The initial leaf produces harder and thicker strings. This will make sense later on as to why the less developed leaves are also taken.
REMOVING THE SKIN
Once the leaves have been cut, the next task is for the skin to be removed from the leaves. I was advised that we were going to use a machine for this. I pictured some type of large metal automated machine. No I was wrong, the handle of a panga (machete) had been removed and wedged into a tree and a smaller panga placed just above it, ingenious! One end of the leaf was placed in between the panga’s and then pulled through. This would remove the outer layer of the leaf and leave just the creamy coloured fibre. Doing this produces a sap to occur, this sap causes skin irritation, therefore must be washed with soapy water to remove it.
ROLLING THE FIBRE INTO THREAD
Once the skin has been removed from the fibre. It it is then left to dry for one hour in the hot sun. Next the individual fibres are separated and the string like fibre is tie rolled together introducing new pieces of fibre before the previous one come to the end. As mentioned earlier there are two different types of fibre used, one taken from the leaves on the outside of the plant which prich grow in the centre of the plant produce a much softer fibre. The harder string is used in a vertical position when weaving the baskets and the softer fibre is used to weave in and out of the vertical pieces.
PREPARING THE FIBRE
Once the fibre has been thoroughly washed, it is rolled into a string, which can be seen by the lady in the previous picture. The ladies explained that the skin on their thighs has become strong now, as they roll the fibre on them. Once this has been completed the string needs to be stored in a good manor so that it does not become knotted. Therefore Janet can be seen in the picture above neetly winding the string.
Once the fibre has been rolled this is the final result. Depending upon the items which is to be made will depend upon the length of the strings which are rolled together
DYING THE THREAD
Once all of the thread has been prepared, then if a different colour is required from the natural one, then the dying will take place. BUT the dying of the threads will only take place on a clothes washing day. As when lots of thread needs to be dyed it is done by hand. Now due to the obvious staining effect of dye on the hands and arms, the only way the ladies have found that it can be removed is by doing all of the washing of the clothes afterwards.
THE BASKET MAKING PROCESS
Trying to ease the process
When the baskets have all been completed it takes a minimum of 10 hours to deliver them to Nairobi and get back, costing around 800ksh ($8 USD) when it’s is dry and 1000ksh ($10 USD) if there has been rain.
The same principle applies when an order for baskets is made. As the shop which sells the dye is based in the centre of Nairobi. Now this shop does not allow the dye to be brought in bulk. It is very expensive and sold only by the teaspoon here!
Therefore since I was advised about the cost of the dye I have started making enquiries into the whereabouts of the wholesalers in Nairobi to purchase a selection of different coloured dyes for the ladies of Yumbani, enabling them to carry out their work without the added burden of a ten hour journey to Nairobi and to be charged extortionate amounts for dye only being sold to them by the teaspoon.
Now size dependent the bags/baskets can take a considerable amount of time to make. Each large baskets takes one lady two weeks to make, this is once the fibre has actually already been rolled into a usable thread.
The majority of the funds made from these baskets will be going to charity http://rhinoark.org this organisation works with communities to help and educate them on how to live alongside wildlife in harmony. Further information on this remarkable charity can be obtained here: http://rhinoark.org/about/approach-and-strategy/?title=QXBwcm9hY2ggYW5kIFN0cmF0ZWd5
The funds from every 10th bag sold will be going directly to the ladies in Yumbuni Village.
MAMA WA KIONDOO
Happiness just swirls around the village
Mama Wa Kiondoo are amazing, these ladies lead their communities on through the most adverse of environments and difficult of circumstances. They are dedicated to stay in their family homes where they were brought up and will do anything they can to make it happen.
They have passion for life, passion for work and passion for each and every moment they lead. Their spirit is admirable. Join them in their fight to remain and work in their homestead.