Weaving a Future, Protecting the Past

How the dying art of traditional Kiondo making helps aging grandmothers provide for their families.

A kiondo (kee-on-doe) is a market bag traditionally woven by the Kamba and Kikuyu tribes in Kenya. Incredibly versatile, durable and beautiful, each of the these bags tell a story.

With one look, the knowledgeable observer can detect the tribal pattern, skill of the weaver, material choice and significance to the owner, The more intricate the bag the more likely it was a gift given from mother to daughter on a special occasion.

Kiondo are the ultimate choice in sustainability! Traditionally woven from available natural materials, the weavers begin by stripping the outside layer of bark from living Sisal or Baobab trees. These trees are super-producers and will regenerate the lost bark within one year! The fiber is boiled and separated into long strings. Once the fibrous strings are dried they are twisted together to form strong cords - the base of the basket.

The materials in the body of kiondo have their own sustainable background story. Surplus clothing from charity shops in the US, Canada, and Europe are bundled into 2-ton bales and shipped to port cities all over Africa. Eventually, the contents these shipments are divided into lots and bid on by merchants who bring the clothing and goods to local flea markets (mitumba). Market Days are big days in town with many deals to be had!

Susanne and Susan scour the piles for kids clothing, fleece jackets, bedding, and...wool sweaters! Sweaters found at the mitumba are washed and unraveled to source the sturdy yarn that forms the body of each handmade kiondo. A new life for an old sweater!

Kiondo making is a dying art form. These beautiful and intricate patterns woven from memory and passed down through generations are finding fewer and fewer new fingers to continue the tradition. The younger generation lives in a new Africa. One with an entire missing generation due to the AIDS epidemic. An Africa inundated with cheap, accessible, imported goods where everything is disposable.

Wana Duma seeks to honor the cultural tradition and craftsmanship of the women who make these works of art. Through the Family Food & Self Sufficiency Program, WDCP purchases the finished kiondo providing essential income to the mother or grandmother so she can care for her family.

The story continues a continent away where the kiondo finds its next home with a Wana Duma supporter like you! Attend a Wana Duma Children's Project fundraising event and purchase a one of a kind kiondo. You will be taking home a piece of cultural history while helping a woman provide for her future.

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Rebecca Kay