Business for Peace Award

Handcrafts alive in Yemen

Published on 11 July 2013 in Culture
Amal Al- Yarisi (author), Small & Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (photographer)

Amal Al- Yarisi


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Small & Micro Enterprise Promotion Service


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The art of weaving palm fronds into baskets and bags by hand has been practiced in Yemen for years—passed on from generation to generation—but artists and craftspeople are struggling to find a market for their wares.

The art of weaving palm fronds into baskets and bags by hand has been practiced in Yemen for years—passed on from generation to generation—but artists and craftspeople are struggling to find a market for their wares.

Mohammed Al-Khawlani sits in a small shop behind the Grand Mosque in the Old City, showing off a variety of traditional handicrafts. Everything he sells is made in Yemen.

One group of items stands apart, for its simplicity and beauty—a collection of women’s bags woven with palm fronds.

This is a traditional Yemeni model, Al-Khawlani explains.

Though the materials needed to make the woven bags are available particularly in coastal areas where palms are planted, these products lack marketing.

Fikri Al-Mafa, who works at the Small and Microfinance Enterprises Agency, said that these artisans need better promotion.

“Seventy-five percent of the weavers of these bags are poor, and have no other means of income except from their handicrafts,” he said.

In 2012, the agency launched a project, hoping to get more of the traditional bags on the international market. (A similar project had been launched in 2009.)

Al-Mafa said they began by surveying areas famous for making the woven bags as well as seeking out artist associations.

Hind Talib, the project officer, said that their initiatives took a hit because of the popular uprisings of 2011.

“It was difficult to export,” she says. “Flights to those countries stopped,” she said.

Despite this, they have participated in international handicraft displays in Germany, like the Messe Frankfurt exhibition.

“We participated [in Germany] in 2012. We displayed handicrafts from Sa’ada, Aden Socotra and Hodeida,” she says.

During the exhibitions, the coordinators of the project knew about the foreign demands and technical criteria of the product such as the color and the size besides many criteria, said Talib.

“We have the ability and the talent to work, but we do not have training to improve,” Al-Khawalni said.

Al-Khawlani wants to see their market expand and he has set his sights internationally.

There are artists in Hodeida, Hadrmout and Socotra, coastal governorates where palm trees are abundant.

 Elham Ali Mohammed, is the head of the Women Association for Skill Development, and also an artist.

Along with a number of women in Al-Tuhaita district in Hodeida governorate, Elham began making handicrafts such as men’s hats, fans and woven bags.

 The artisans share one hope: selling the handcrafts they are making.

Amat Al-Bari Al-Adi, a handicrafts advisor in the General Authority for Antiquities Protection, said a huge number of local artists have a hard time promoting their products abroad. Lack of education hold them back, Al-Adi said.

To this end, they’ve held 33 workshops for artists, bringing in trainers from abroad.

Even if they bring in outside help, though, Al-Adi said, they must not lose the Yemeni quality of the age-old art.

“The Yemeni character of the pieces must be guaranteed and preserved,” she said.

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