Reviving Rivers And Weaving Traditions In Nigeria

© Gert Baumbach. The work of rural Nigerian weavers on display at a gallery show in Berlin.

The generations-old art of weaving is dying off in Angiama, an island town in rural Nigeria. So are the area's rivers and streams, which have become choked with invasive water hyacinth. Alafuro Sikoki's design-driven project aims to help resuscitate them both.

Nigerian industrial designer Sikoki returned to Angiama, her father's hometown, last year with a plan to use local villagers' valuable skills to turn the pesky hyacinth into a cash crop: a source of materials for lampshades, chairs, stools, and other household accessories.

Poverty In Oil-Rich State
Though Bayelsa State, where Angiana is located, sits in the heart of the oil- and gas-rich Niger Delta, its population largely lives in poverty, lacking even basic infrastructure. The area's once-plentiful wildlife is in decline due to the effects of petroleum spills, gas flaring, and invasive species such as hyacinth, disrupting fishermen's ability to make a living.

© Alafuro Sikoki. Women gathering invasive water hyacinth in Angiama, Nigeria.

"It is very sad to see a community surrounded by lush vegetation and petroleum wealth live in squalor and without hope. Handcrafts and skill-sets such as oil-palm cutting, canoe carving, roof thatching, palm wine tapping, weaving, pottery, wood carving, drum making, and storytelling are fast disappearing with the dying elders," Sikoki wrote for the Germany-based Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Foundation.

Preserving A Fading Art Form
Her contribution to the foundation's SurVivArt exhibition in Berlin, which looked at how a "good life" is defined in different countries, was "H++" -- a design project Sikoki described as one that "utilizes a negative and turns it into a positive." She added: "I felt that if I could document and help to preserve the fading art form of weaving while helping to 'weed' the river of water hyacinth, I would be contributing in my own way to the community."

© Alafuro Sikoki. Kanfa weaves a traditional hat.

Traveling from Lagos to Angiama, Sikoki met two elderly weavers, Cecilia and Kanfa, who showed her how they make mats, baskets, and traditional hats with raffia, cane, and twine. They also introduced her to the three other weavers who completed the team Sikoki worked with to harvest hyacinth, dry it in a shed built by a local tradesman, and then craft it into durable, but also biodegradable, household items for display at the Berlin show.

Sikoki's project is not the first of its kind: A similar effort in Kenya is helping villagers there turn the same invasive menace into a moneymaker. But unlike with the hyacinth plant itself, the more the merrier.

Tags: Crafts | Designers | Furniture | Lighting | Nigeria