Crafts that Ease Economic Hardship
The ongoing conflict in Darfur has resulted in an unstable economy and an infrastructure that is in disrepair. In the midst of this, Darfuri women continue to create intricate handicrafts that not only represent a cultural inheritance handed down through generations but also often serve as their only means of survival.
By Hamid Abdulsalam
Darfuri women play a vital role within the family and community structures in the region. While most of them perform many of the traditional tasks commonly associated in Darfuri culture with the roles of wife, mother, sister and daughter, they also frequently contribute toward generating income for their households. With the massive displacements that have taken place in the past decade, women have increasingly begun to take on the role of breadwinner in the fractured families that inhabit the camps for the displaced. Craft, especially weaving items such as food covers, baskets, mats, ropes, hats and so forth, from palm leaves, a readily available raw material across Darfur, has proved to be a staple small business that enables these women to fulfil their basic needs.
Halima Adam, a resident of the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons in North Darfur, says she has been making baskets, food covers and mats for more than 10 years. According to Ms. Adam, she learned the art of weaving mats from her grandmother when she was a child. A widow with several children, Ms. Adam is the primary provider in her family and reveals that selling such crafts in the market enables her to ensure that her children can attend school. “After the death of my husband, we have been living solely on the income I generate through these crafts,” says Ms. Adam. She also claims that she has some regular customers for whom she creates woven objects on order.
As Ms. Adam’s example illustrates, there is a wide and regular demand for such handmade items across the region as they are relatively inexpensive and made of natural constituents. Local consumers, therefore, prefer such handcrafted items over factory-manufactured plastic goods. In addition to this, many Darfuri communities, especially those who live in the rural areas, use objects made of palm leaf for a variety of purposes and occasions, including weddings and other community events. In fact, young women are often taught the art of weaving objects by the elders of the family; as such handicrafts are considered to be part of the cultural heritage of Darfur.
This photo essay highlights the generations-old craft of using palm leaves to make specific products and is a tribute to the Darfuri craftswomen who struggle every day to make ends meet and provide for their families.