Friday, December 21, 2007

Mali: A country with a Ministry of Artisan Arts

Work was going to take me back to Bamako in early December and -- having found a new job that was to start at the beginning of the 2008 -- I wanted to make wise use of my final(?) trip to Africa.

Since making the trip to Mali in September 2006 I had resorted to commercial courier service for sending tools, equipment and supplies to Ethiopia and Mali. So, I only needed to pack a few things that were ready to take. Once I established new contacts, sending more stuff would be easy by courier.

I was leaving Bamako at midnight of Dec. 6 this year and in the morning I decided to explore the Artisan Market. I figured, if I didn't meet spinners or weavers at the market, I would drop by the DHL office downtown and send the hand carders and dye powder to the two fiber guilds I had visited previously.

Ready to DHL, just in case.

The Artisan Market

It turned out to be a lucky day for me as I checked out the weaving studio of the Artisan Market. I met Bina, an old man working on a floor loom.

Interesting touch: Bina adds a stick of broom material every several row of cotton thread.

Broom on the floor.

I asked him if he had handcarders and could he show them to me. He very nicely did. I said I had three pairs with me, could they use them? He replied that the handcarders would be welcome. As he opened the box that I had packed, he delightedly leafed through a Japanese book on rigid heddle weaving and then he saw the plastic bags of dyes.

At that point Bina invited me see their dye lab and the spinning wheel that he had built. We went out of the market and walked some blocks to a fenced-in building. Outside, women were dyeing bazin (like damask) fabrics to sell in the market.

Bazin cloth from Holland. They can cost anywhere from a few dollars to over 10 dollars depending on the thread count. The top-of-the line is called "bazin riche", while the lower quality kind is called "bazin moins riche."

To be continued.