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Made in The Gambia: Weaving with Palm Leaves

My Magazine 2023/11
3 min
Ebrima Sorrie Camara, a man in his 50s, is a talented weaver. He uses dried leaves of the Palmyra Palm tree to create carefully woven Gambian-made products like handbags, sling bags, small baskets, table mats, customised local hats, bottle holders and so on. He lived and worked in Germany for 10 years but had to return in 2015. With little money to put his life back together, he thought of returning to his old weaving trade.

Ebrima was born, raised, and partly schooled in provincial Gambia in the famous towns of Janjanbureh and Banjul, but now he sells his skills as a weaver in the tourist area of Senegambia. His story reflects one's desire for a decent pay and a dignified life.

He used to work as a meteorologist for the government. His job couldn't elevate his financial status as his income was too small. From his pay, he had to care for his wife and three kids and support his extended family. As he recalled, it was very difficult for him. That's when he decided to have a little business on the side, which would fetch him just a little more to add to his income.

One day, he saw an old man weaving some baskets, and he asked if he could learn, and the old man agreed to teach him. It took him a while to learn, but when he made his first basket, he knew he had found his passion. Through self-practice and determination to change his financial situation, he started making woven products and targeting the tourist market. He was fortunate to cross paths with friends who later invited him to Germany, where he lived and worked for 10 years. When in Germany, he worked hard and regularly sent money to his family back home.

In 2015, he was deported from Germany. According to him, his greatest shock was realising that the funds he had been sending back home had been mismanaged. There was nothing to show for his 10-year stay and work in Germany.

At the time of his deportation, he was left with less than 1,000 Euros to start life again, but he knew giving up was not an option. He decided to go back to his old weaving trade. His dream and desire are to expand his business, which has sustained him and his family. He is operating from an abandoned tourist taxi driver's resting place, where he could be evicted anytime soon.

Making a woven product takes him a lot of time. First, he has to collect the leaves from the Palmyra Palm tree and dry them. It takes him 6 hours to make a handbag or a sling bag, and he can make two daily. A small table mat takes him three hours, and he can make four in a day. A customised local hat takes him five hours. This is how much time he invests in his craft and trade.

My Gambia recognises the need to support and encourage small-scale local businesses by giving them a platform to showcase and promote their products, which these business owners may lack.

We admire Ebrima's tenacity and the willpower to move on after experiencing such a major setback in his life. When we first met him, we would never have guessed his story as he lives a very calm life and works hard at his business.

Taking this workshop or buying a product from Ebrima not only means supporting him in giving his family a better life, but it also means supporting an industry that is fading away as only a few young people venture into this craft and trade.

Additionally, it will add value to Gambian-made products, which is an element of responsible tourism - showing respect for what's local and rewarding the effort that Ebrima and other local artisans invest in upholding the craft and trade of weaving.

If you want to buy Ebrima's hand-made baskets or learn how to make these beautiful products, contact us!

 

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