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RWANDAN SISAL AND SWEETGRASS BASKETS

For centuries, Rwandan weavers have passed down an intricate tradition of weaving sisal and sweetgrass into stunning baskets.

The ancient designs denote important aspects of Rwandan life. “They symbolize hunting, war, prosperity, marriage and fertility,” Lark says. “I especially love the one that represents dance and movement.”

THE PROCESS

The women use machetes to cut down the plants and peel away the fibers. They then dip the strands into urns of boiling water with natural dyes and hang them to dry.

Once dried, the fibers are intricately woven and stitched. Every basket requires more than 30,000 stitches, each and every one made by an artist’s expert hand.

Cooperatives, run by and for women, teach the weavers business skills to help them make a living. “It’s women reaching out to other women,” Lark explains. “It’s beautiful. They share information with other families and villages.”

After suffering a violent civil war, nearly half of Rwanda’s workers are unemployed. “The social impact that the sale of these baskets has on Rwandan families is tremendous,” Lark says.

MASTER WEAVER • Mukakamanzi Theresa

"I was born into a family of nine children. I dropped out of school because my parents could not afford tuition. The little they made selling potatoes and cassava [a starchy root vegetable], they used to pay tuition for my brothers.

“With no education and no job, I was forced to marry early. My husband worked in the capital Kigali making very little to support our family and only came home once a month. If my husband didn't come home for many, many days, the children and I would go hungry.

“When the Gahaya weaving cooperative came to my village to mobilize women into weaving, I had nothing. My first basket sales bought me a piece of Kitenge [fabric], which I used to make my first dress with income from my hands. I became a Master Weaver and bought clothes, a mattress, and then hens and goats—which I sold to buy a cow.

“When my husband returned after a while, he saw a new woman, well dressed, sleeping on a mattress, and owning a cow for our family. He now respects me as his wife. We have a savings account, we pay our health insurance every year and our children are well fed."