The female artisans of Rwanda’s Gahaya Links arguably produce some of the most recognizable items at the International Folk Art Market. Finely woven baskets, adorned with geometric patterning and vibrant, naturally dyed colors, commingle with whimsical, tall-necked woven vessels with tapering tops that seem to sway gently to the left and right. Immediately appealing for their almost anthropomorphic appearance, these tall, curved vessels have long been popular offerings from Gahaya Links.
Cofounder Janet Nkubana explains the complex process, “Each basket has 30,000 stitches where every single thread is a stitch. The first step is using plain sisal and tie a knot so you weave the base of sisal and then you start adding a little grass. As the basket grows, you keep adding more grass. Making each basket is very intricate because every thread you see is a stitch.” To view the process go to “How to Start Weaving a Basket”.
According to a statement on behalf of organization cofounder Janet Nkubana, “Our folk art expresses the appreciation and preservation of traditional Rwandan art passed on from one generation to the other. It’s important because women of Rwanda are using basketry a means to earn a living for their families.”
Janet and her sister Joy Ndungstse (the other founder of Gahaya Links) grew up in an Ugandan refugee camp, estranged for years from their native Rwanda. When they did return home, the impact of a years-long, brutal genocide had devastated relationships between the sisters’ families and neighbors, and the sisters became determined to do what they could to help improve the lives of those affected by war. This is how the story of Gahaya Links begins, with the sisters joining together Hutu and Tutsi women into a basket-weaving arts collective. “I realized that this was an opportunity not just for women to earn money, it was an opportunity to build peace,” says Nkubana.
Currently, the Gahaya Links manages a network of over 4,000 weavers in 52 cooperatives across Rwanda. It has had a profound impact on the quality of life for its members, who, thanks to the organization, are able to provide a stable source of income not just for themselves, but for their families as well. And the numbers speak loudly: 100 percent of Gahaya Links weavers are able to cover the cost of health insuarance; 80 percent have bank accounts; 40 percent have started their own businesses, concentraring on agriculture and and handcrafts, and 10 percent have become local community leaders.
In an interview with Lionesses of Africa, Janet and Joy simply sum up what Gahaya Links is, “We are very proactive. We are strong women. We are great managers. We are great policy makers. We can be a great force for Africa.”
For more information visit www.gahyalinks.com.