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Handmade necklaces, baskets and spices by WAWAMAKI from Tanzania

WAWAMAKI is a group of women entrepreneurs from the National Village Museum Business Bazaar in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. WAWAMAKI was established in January 2022 as an initiative for women's economic empowerment. Membership is open to all women entrepreneurs working at the National Village Museum Business Bazaar, provided they meet the conditions set out in the group's constitution. The group is composed of eight women who produce various products in fabrics, beadwork, basketry, woodcarving, natural health, organic beauty products, and organic spices. Each team member contributes their practical knowledge, skills and expertise in their field.

Social and environmental responsibility

WAWAMAKI facilitates educational and business opportunities for women from diverse backgrounds, educational levels, impairments, or special needs to promote the mental and economic empowerment of women and special groups. They also work closely with embassies and diplomatic missions to help them realize their plans and goals. For example, through the support of the Embassy of Tanzania in Berlin, they will be able to participate in Bazaar Berlin 2023 this year.

The group also holds recurring annual charity activities where they donate materials or other supplies to needy people such as widows, orphans, the disabled, the sick and patients in hospitals as a way of thanking the community. For this purpose, they welcome donations from people all over the world.

A woman smiling at the camera and holding up pearl necklaces, surrounded by other products, such as pearl necklaces and traditional fabrics.

WAWAMAKI sells traditional fabrics, beaded products, baskets and more. © WAWAMAKI

Traditional fabrics, beaded products, reed baskets and special carvings from WAWAMAKI.

Most WAWAMAKI products are made by hand or with the help of hand-operated machines, as in the case of the Vikoi fabrics. This handmade production process allows the products to be designed according to the customer's wishes.

The women entrepreneurs are active in a total of six main product lines:

They sell fabrics and make high quality batik and handloom, known as "vikoi" in the Swahili language. WAWAMAKI members are also experts in beading; they make special beaded products such as necklaces, bracelets, earrings. In addition, they craft various types of baskets made from natural grasses such as reed grass (milulu) and raffia palm fiber - these grasses are native to tropical countries such as Tanzania. Most baskets are woven by rural women who use them to earn extra income after farming. Sourcing from their own crops and small farmers, they carefully process and package spices to preserve their natural flavor and aroma. They produce a variety of handmade ebony carvings. Since ebony is an endangered species, they provide education and advise carving artists to use faster growing tree species, such as neem and bamboo. To protect the ebony tree, WAWAMAKI is mobilizing resources to plant at least 10,000 ebony trees each year for the next five years as a group initiative to protect the ebony tree.

Every single product is connected with the culture, traditions and customs of Tanzania: The reed grass baskets, for example, were traditionally used for storing grain in households. The baskets have many uses - from storage to decoration to handbags. Beaded products have always been an integral part of Tanzania's history - they were used by women as beauty accessories, they indicated power or wealth, they are spiritual talismans and form coded messages.

Selected products such as key rings, bangles and bracelets are in the colors of the Tanzanian national flag, which consists of the four colors green, black, yellow and blue. Green symbolizes the rich agricultural resources, land and vegetation, while black represents the people of Tanzania. Yellow represents the mineral wealth of Tanzania and blue symbolizes the Indian Ocean and the rivers and lakes of Tanzania.

Challenges of sustainable production and tradition preservation at WAWAMAKI

The manufacturing process and traditional methods also create great challenges for them. One of these challenges is the manual and time-consuming production process. However, WAWAMAKI does not intend to automate production - rather, the group is looking for manual finishing machines that will allow them to increase production speed and capacity while maintaining the quality of their products.

A handloom made of wood at which a man is processing yarn.

A traditional handloom at WAWAMAKI. © WAWAMAKI

The current trend in the world market shows that many people prefer products made from natural raw materials. WAWAMAKI's baskets are made from natural grass fibers - naturally grown grass fibers that do not come from commercial farms are harvested for this purpose. To secure future raw material supplies and meet demand, more of these grass fibers must be grown instead of relying solely on harvesting from nature. The initiative to grow more natural fiber grass is not only costly, but also requires a collaborative effort from the global community. To make this project a reality, WAWAMAKI would like to work with local and international organizations and institutions.

The development of modern fabric production is also a great challenge for traditional hand weaving. Young generations show little interest in learning the traditional style - WAWAMAKI, however, is willing to train the dying traditional production method. But, "Getting young people to learn requires short- and long-term incentives that we cannot afford as a group. We need a joint effort to save traditional technology," emphasizes Neema Fredrick from WAWAMAKI.

Hall 11.2 | Stand 219

Further information about WAWAMAKI can be found on Instagram

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Handmade baskets from natural grass fibers.


Hand carved sculptures from WAWAMAKI.


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