July 08, 2015
We love creating products made from the natural raw materials of Rwanda: imigwegwe, sisal, palm…and banana leaf! A quintessential part of any Rwandan landscape, banana trees – which look like miniature palms – grow abundantly atop the country’s beautiful green rolling hills, and their leaves have been used for centuries to weave traditional Rwandan baskets.
We are so excited about some of our newest banana leaf products – like floppy floor baskets & summer beach totes– whose simple, airy, and elegant design highlight the beautiful artistry of the artisans who make them – the 30 talented women of the Twiyubake cooperative!
Located in Kayonza in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, Twiyubake is made up of female genocide survivors who work side-by-side with the wives of imprisoned génocidaires. A powerful and inspiring group of women, they first met in 2007 through a nonprofit called the Prison Fellowship, which seeks to promote reconciliation among people affected by genocide.
The Prison Fellowship hired a local artisan to teach the women how to weave banana leaves as a way to help them earn income while working together to foster reconciliation. In 2008, we began our partnership with Twiyubake and over the years have helped them to refine their skills and create new, innovative products designed to add a touch of natural, Rwandan beauty to your life and home (and hearts!).
The artisans of Twiyubake often pick their banana leaves by hand from local plantations or sometimes buy them from a distributor. Once the leaves are harvested, they are left out in the sun to dry and take on varying shades of brown, black, and white depending on the length of their tanning time and the type of tree they come from. They can also be dyed to take on deep new hues from the brightest of pinks to the darkest of indigo blues.
Once the leaves are dried, dyed, and ready-to-go, the artisans use them to weave a range of beautiful products, altering their techniques based on the specificities of each object. For example the artisans will use their fingers to twist and weave the banana leaves by hand to make bag handles or bracelets, but will braid them to make baskets. To create more complex items – like woven stools or chairs – they will often use a needle and thread to finely weave the leaves into the desired shape and size.
Whatever the technique, their final products are always beautiful, intricate, rustic yet refined, and true testaments to the natural beauty of Rwanda and the remarkable artistry that resides there.
To shop our newest collection of woven, banana leaf pieces, click here