Handcraft making in Rwanda: Good for tourism and economy but a potential danger for cultural heritage and environment.
Basket weaving or basketry has a strong traditional meaning in Rwanda. This practice with a big gender gap was and is still done majority by women and girls. Women and girls gather, socialize, and education whereby mothers teaching girls how to become good wives. This art creates bond between neighbours and family members across generations.
Basket weaving uses various raw materials such as grass and sisal fibres, papyrus, bamboo, cane, reed, raffia, and banana leaves. Rwandan basket, commonly known as traditionally peace basket which is used to hold gifts such as that one that every gloom gives to a new wife’s mother. Baskets are used in home to store goods and harvest such as dry beans, and sorghum. Basket/Agaseke also symbolises wealth.
Historically, weaving was passed down from mother to daughter, generation to generation, as a journey into womanhood, as well as symbolizing a mother’s care for her children and her country.
After genocide, basket making was used to overcome past differences and bring people together. Ever since then, traditional agaseke basket has been a symbol of Rwanda’s newfound peace, reconciliation, unity, and hope for the bright future of Rwanda.
Rwandan baskets-Agaseke k’u Rwanda
Apart from basket weaving, we have other products handcrafted in wood, plastics, fruits, honey-based products like wax, ceramics, and pottery; woven products and mats, jewellery products, cow-horns, hand textiles and hand-loomed products; embroidery, and the famous now-the Kitenge products, etc.
Kitenge made handcraft products can be a solution.
Benefits of handcraft making
C.Uwamariya (Handcraft projects and rural development in Rwanda: A case Study of Aziz Life Project in Muhanga, 2016) states handcraft contributed significantly to the development of Muhanga District through jib creation, access to medical insurance, access to education, increase life standards of members of various cooperatives.
Traditional handicraft techniques have many environmental benefits, including using sustainable materials, reducing waste, and improving energy efficiency, supporting local economies, and extending longevity of life. Basket making in Rwanda contribute to socializing, culture preservation, education, environment, economy, social transformation, reconciliation, self-reliance, hope, as well as cultural exchange and tourism development.
Handcraft does a lot to protect the earth through reduce the environment risks, making tools to reuse and impact on environment and economy, and recycle for environment and better world.
Drawbacks of handcraft making
Rwanda is a small country of 26,338 km². The census shows that the population density of Rwanda in 2022 was 523.03 people per square kilometre, a 2.34% increase from 2021.
The country’s economy and its community livelihood vastly depend on natural resources but that high density, unsustainable cause deforestation, pollution, overpopulation, global warming, soil erosion, which impacts on climate variability and climate change.
Yes, handcraft making in Rwanda impacts on socio-economic transformation of local communities, raise the visibility of the country, and preserves the tradition but it leads to the depletion of natural resources and damage to historical sites.
It takes long time to grow a tree which will be used to make a mortar and pestle. Many of you know how we encourage local communities to embrace handcraft to make money out of souvenirs but no plan in place to raise community awareness in terms planting papyrus, sisal and other plants used for that purpose.
Some of you have requested for authorization to harvest your own forest and you know how “Agronomes” or “Environmentalists” or “Kanyamashyamba” in Districts or sectors are very firm and check if you harvest what is ready enough-this is not the case for local communities harvesting papyrus in marshland.
G.Umuzirange in her journal article “Environmental justice and women empowerment in Nyungwe National Park (Rwanda): A case study of Kitabi Women Handcraft Cooperative, 2019-she mentions that artisans suffer from a lot due to being unorganized, lack of education, low capital, poor exposure, absence of market intelligence and a poor institutional framework.
She carries on saying that handcraft makers lack stocks of raw materials, limited access to finance, the discontinuity of craft skills, poor social recognitions of handicraft, poor income, migration to other jobs, reluctance to use new technology.
All of us should be conscious about environment, stop being selfish and think for a better world for future generations. Yes, we all want good products, we are proud of our culture and want to share with others, and yes, we want to want to be economically strong, but we need to it carefully-do not take it with a pinch of salt.
All institutions dealing with environment, much more tourism and conservation in Rwanda Development Board, Districts, sectors, and Rwanda Community Tourism Association must work jointly to be the custodians of environment protection in all angles.
Legal documents, policies, and regulations on environmental protection standards for handcraft making should be in place. There should be programs and projects with regards to practice selective cut/harvest of raw materials. On top of this, there should be a vibrating campaign focusing on planting indigenous tree, and special forestation of plants used for handcraft making.
The responsible institutions and department should perform the system of legal documents on environmental protection in this area such as environmental impact assessment and environmental protection commitment to build a less negative environmental impact sub-sector. We call upon IT people to come with solutions applying technical technology into production.
Inspections and supervisions must be strengthened the to help sustainable development of handcraft making, as well as prioritizing green villages and cities. Media houses, social media platforms, public figures should all join for propagating, educating, and raising awareness on the protection of natural resources.
We do not ignore that handcraft is lacking skills, financial support-access to loans, marketing skills, and wide market, enough raw materials and is facing a big competition on the regional and international level but be aware that handcraft is at a silent alarm to environmental pollution
Papyrus wetland, forest to potentially be washed away for making wooden products