We're giving away our best-selling, $88 White Peace Corps Hamper to a lucky individual on December 12th. This hand-woven basket has a great story behind it and looks beautiful in any home. The hamper would make a lovely holiday gift (though we won't tell anyone if you keep it for yourself!). To enter, simply fill in the fields below. Good luck!a Rafflecopter giveaway
Restrictions: This contest is for US residents only. You can gain up to six additional entries to win if you fill out all of the fields.
In September, we happened upon this booth of medicinal cures at a market in Burkina Faso. The booth seemed to have a cure for everything: Super Health, Asthma, Hypertension, Stomach Ulcers, General Fatigue, and even a Sexual Aid for Female Frigidity (yikes!). Many of these cures are made by hand, with local herbs, and in the "Research Laboratory of Botanical Sciences," which could very well be the vendor's home.
If your initial reaction is to scoff at these herbal remedies as being rudimentary or complete hogwash, you might want to consider an article in this month's New York Times that revealed that many of the herbal supplements sold in the US are not what they claim to be. A group of Canadian researchers recently tested 44 bottles of popular supplements sold by 12 namebrand companies, and they found that many of the herbal supplements sold in the US were simply powdered rice, wheat, or soybean.
The FDA does not test or regulate herbal supplements, which allows companies to more or less fill pills with whatever they want. According to the NYT, "Of 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place."
While we can't attest to the effectiveness of these local remedies, they are likely based on some sort of regional plant understanding that has been fostered over the years. At the very least, it's likely that these handmade medicines have much more healing potential than ground rice powder.
We are hosting a contest for a Santa Claus Ornament Set! Complete all of the fields below to gain extra chances to win. We will announce and contact the winner one week from now.
These musically inclined Santas are handcrafted with sisal, banana fiber, and paper. With their red coats and shaggy white beards, the Santas brighten up any Christmas tree and are a great way to show your support for Fair Trade products during the holidays.
Offered as a set of three.
Restrictions: This contest is for US only. You can only enter once (but with up to six chances to win if you fill out all of the forms).
EDIT: Congratulations to Deborah S. for winning this contest!
Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday, but the the concept of giving thanks and celebrating harvests is a global tradition with equivalents in many African countries. One of the most famous harvest festivals that takes place in Ghana and Nigeria is called the Yam Festival. This harvest celebration is held in early August at the end of the rainy season when the yams are harvested.
Sometimes called "To Hoot at Hunger" in Ghana and "New Yams" in Nigeria, the harvesting of the yams is celebrated with parades, dancing, songs, and drumming. Yams are a staple food of many African diets, and a plentiful harvest is important for survival. The yam is an especially important foodstuff because stores for a long time and is very valuable during the wet season, when food is scarce.
During the Yam Festival, communities come together to give thanks for a good harvest and to pray for no famine in the next growing season. In appreciation, people offer yams to gods and ancestors before distributing them to the villagers. The Yam Festival, like Thanksgiving, is a time of being thankful and proud.
Did you know that, despite their appearance and common flavor, that yams and sweet potatoes are not genetically related at all? The confusion can be blamed on the US government, who many years ago labeled orange sweet potatoes as "yams" in an attempt to differentiate between the two varieties of American sweet potatoes (one with creamy white flesh and the other with orange flesh).
Yams, on the other hand, are native to Africa, Asia, and other tropical regions. They are starchy tubers that come in a variety of colors and can grow upwards of five feet long. If you want to taste a true yam, they can sometimes be found in international markets, such as those that specialize in Caribbean foods.
November 28 will mark the 35th Thanksgiving I will have celebrated as a human being of the American persuasion. I’ll turn my kitchen into a warm pocket of mingling sweet and savory aromas, I’ll see delight in my little boys’ faces when I grace the table with a traditional meal. I love the practice of taking a special day to savor family and friends and to count our blessings.
Yet in the midst of my preparations, I am feeling a residual sense of urgency for the holiday to hurry up and get out of the way. There’s something important on the horizon, Darla, the advertisements tell me. Something you should not miss, Darla. Apparently, since I am an American, a trembling desire for this pending event should be hard-wired into my DNA.
BLACK FRIDAY looms like a malevolent cloud.
I was not always so blessed to work at Swahili. For a few years during college, I manned the photo department in my local Wal-Mart. I remember the frenetic nature of the day after Thanksgiving: strife amok, shoppers trampled, fistfights breaking out over cheap electronics, being admonished to push high-markup items—even with a discount those profits were still quite tasty to the corporation.
The crazed manner in which people filled their carts with sterile mass-produced objects, nicking names off their gifting lists with grim satisfaction, smudged the beauty of these two holidays. Black Friday seemed like a road with no scenery that zipped shoppers from Thanksgiving to Christmas, quickly, inexpensively and in my personal opinion, rather thoughtlessly.
I am very thankful to have joined the staff of Swahili a month after I moved from Missouri to Oregon 12 years ago. Something about the handmade items coming from Africa resonated deep within my spirit. Over a decade into this very non-traditional era of my life, I know quite well what that something is, and what it means not only to me, but also to the world at large.
Every Swahili product is imagined, crafted, quality checked, packaged and couriered by people. Every person who touches our items benefits from those items’ existence in the world, not only fiscally, but also deep in our psyches, in that place where we measure and guard our humanity.
The artisans who craft fair trade gifts earn equitable wages that provide for balanced diets, education for children and future stability for families and communities. To a growing sphere of shoppers, the implied net value of an item that begins its life bringing good to another human being is great. Add to that value the affirmation of human talent evident in the artistry of handcrafted gifts, and tack on the harmony promoted between our cultures, as well. When one takes time to measure the overall value of fair trade gifts to our basic humanity, mass-produced, factory-originated products bought and sold inexpensively begin to feel…well…cheap, and sadly impersonal.
After 18 years of diligent product development work in Africa, Swahili continues to see a growing demand for handcrafted African gifts, even though fair trade items will never be price-competitive with mass-produced items. We attribute this demand to a growing desire for a greater human net impact of dollars spent, as well as a departure from mindless gift gluttony.
Even a small item with great human net impact shows your recipient that you’ve given their value to you a lot more thought than a mad dash through a superstore on Black Friday might allow. You treasure your loved ones, you value the future of humanity and you put your dollars to work in a positive way. Not every gift can be fair trade, but when fair trade gifts are appropriate to your recipient, they are a highly beneficial choice.
Here at Swahili, we love Fair Tuesday. The goal of #FairTuesday is to inspire conscious consumerism and show how an everyday purchase can change lives in a whole community. #FairTuesday features fair trade, ethical, and eco-friendly brands all dedicated to creating positive, sustainable change. To learn more, visit www.fairtuesday.com.
Cool, urban and offbeat are all words we can aptly use to describe the artisans and creations of Soweto Village in Dakar, Senegal. To get a feel for Soweto village, imagine yourself weaving through a maze of crowded streets in noisy Dakar, trying your best to employ the spotty French you wish you’d brushed up on before landing. After you finally admit to yourself that you’re completely lost, you unexpectedly come face-to-face with a hip young Senegalese man wearing patchwork pants, his beautifully manicured dreadlocks descending from under his matching tam. He smiles in welcome, and as you eyeball a melee of funky little recycled metal Volkswagen Beetles on a table behind him, you relax. Soweto Village has found you.
The artisans’ medium of choice are bottle caps and recycled aluminum and tin from boldly printed coffee, tomato, sardine, pop and beer cans, the discards of daily life that are always in ready supply in this frenetic West African destination. Vivid colors seem central to West African advertising, and the Arabic, French, English and even Wolof phrases decorating the metal cans add even more eye appeal and cultural distinction.
When Swahili Imports first sampled the creative vision of Mbeye and Jacque, the small workshop’s artisans were focusing mainly on sporty bicycle and motorbike sculptures, constructed to include realistic details and moving parts. Since the motorbikes instantly sold like hot cakes, we branched out together to create some more bestsellers. So far, so good.
While visiting Kenya in September, Leslie, Jenna and I were privileged to visit an old friend of Swahili's, the accomplished artist Martin Dartey. A Ghanaian, Martin holds a Masters degree in African art from the College of Art at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, and was introduced to us while lecturing one of Percy's art classes at our local university. Martin's works have been sold through National Geographic's Novica site and in private exhibitions.
Following the tragic and unexpected death of his beloved wife Carol, a Kenyan, Martin moved his young son to Nairobi and established his latest artistic endeavor on a farm near Ngong, owned by Carol's mother.
Perched on a hill behind "Mommy's" house, a cinderblock pavilion contains three mud and dung kilns, hand built by a Ghanaian expert in the craft of recycled glass production. In this tranquil setting, Teresa, Eva, Margaret and Douglas convert discarded bottles into beautiful lustrous recycled glass beads. The glass workshop is a tribute to Carol's memory, and beautifully entwines the Dartey family's Kenyan and Ghanaian roots.
Collecting bottles is the easy part. Restaurants, hotels and bars have an endless supply of empties that they are happy to pass along. Some colors, like brown and green, are more prevalent than others, like the prized blue Bombay Sapphire bottles.
Plate glass in hard-to-find colors like red or yellow is also collected.
The bottles are washed, and labels are removed. The artisans then use homemade mortar and pestles to crush the glass.
This step also gives each bead its rounded shape, and creates a void for stringing.
Before we head back to Nairobi, Mommy treats us to gracious Kenyan hospitality. We enjoy chai and donuts and talk about Carol, how much we are loving our first visit to Kenya, and how Mommy would like to keep Jenna, her "giraffe".
Back at Martin's house in Nairobi, the beads are laid out on beading boards and strung together with other components on wire, elastic or cord to create finished pieces of lustrous recycled glass jewelry.
Martin's artistic nature and knowledge of art history keep him experimenting constantly. He revealed some lovely soapstone beads tinted naturally with coffee and tea, and demonstrated the traditional method of smoking soapstone over a flame to create an indelible finish without dyes.
After viewing some of Martin's art and designing some new pieces for the Swahili line, we headed back to our apartment at Njema Court feeling thoroughly inspired by our visit with Martin, Mommy and the talented artisans of Monda. Working together to transform forgotten materials into unique works of wearable art, bridging craft forms from across the continent and creating employment for creative individuals seems like a fitting way to honor the memory of an unforgettable wife, mother, daughter and friend.