Sunday, April 27, 2008

One hundred and one Swaziland destinations - #24: "Gone Rural"

Based on a microenterprise empowerment model, this non-profit, shop-based collection of Swazi handicrafts is a popular destination for gift-seekers. While all souvenirs bought in Swaziland will no doubt support someone in need, this project does so deliberately. Their prices are not the lowest, but their quality is high. They have some of the nicest local products I have seen here, especially those that derive from reeds.

Well, I should say that “reed” is not the correct word for the long, rigid grass used to make these products. It is a type of tall grass, and there are several versions that grow wild here in Swaziland. After an extensive discussion with the staff at the coffee shop from where I write, they wrote down three Swazi words that have no clear English translation but represent the three primary types of reeds/grass that is used to make these decorative souvenirs. (lukhwane, ncoboza, lukindzi)

The inventory at Gone Rural is both from pragmatic and artistic. The craftsmanship that turns wild reed-grass into art (the collecting, dyeing, weaving, tieing, etc) is impressive. These are more than handicrafts. They are a population's livelihood (>700 ruralwomen contribute to the inventory).

The origins and the product are simple. The struggle it represents is anything but.


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