Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Mandiack Weavers of Caritas

On Thursday, October 27th, 2011- I had the pleasure of joining the Dakar Woman's Group on a 'field trip'. The Dakar Woman's Group is  a dynamic group of 200+ woman members from 55 different countries living in Dakar. The group which I believe was established at least 7 years or more ago, with a mission to come  together to make friends, have fun, discover Senegal and its people, and through various events raise funds for local charities that focus on woman and children.

Introductions and Carpool Logistics
This month's field trip took us to The Mandiack Weavers of Caritas.  For me this was the 2nd time  I had now been up close and personal watching this incredible feat of craftsmanship. The first time was just happenstance with Manning and this time since it was organized through DWG - we had the luxury of obtaining some history about both Caritas and the Weavers.

Caritas is a Catholic  NGO that works to help the less fortunate in Senegal. Which is hard to fathom for me when it seems like that could be everyone we see - so from the standards of needy here there is even a more dire sub population.

We met 3 project leaders of the local organization who each focused on one particular area. One, was to work with donors to help receive funds and turn them into food vouchers (as opposed to giving out the money directly) and give those vouchers away for people who can turn them in directly for food for healthier living. The second was to help refugee immigrants with initial medical coverage , food and housing for a few months while they get settled. And last, a focus on woman and micro-finance so they can organize a small business (fruit stand as an example) but go back to their village to start the business.

The highlight of the trip of course was the weavers themselves. The weavers we saw work on the the premises of Caritas which is where they do their craft.  A couple of the DWG woman happily stepped up to help act as translators so I tried to listen and write my notes down but I'm not sure I got the full version but what I was able to write down and capture was very interesting!!

As people moved from their villages (and this is where I"m not sure if it was Senegalese or other African countries) into Dakar, it was evident there was a population of men who brought with them this craft of weaving. However they were not educated, and 
therefore not qualified to find a job in the city. There were some priests who recognized their talents and wanted to help them - so worked with them to organize a cooperative starting with 4-5 weavers - working to gain recognition and little by little it grew.  And with the connection to Caritas - they have now been established. There are 14 weavers who were located in the structure (7 senior weavers + their apprentices - as they always work in teams of 2) but I believe there are many more weavers in the cooperative.  I wrote down 1978 - so I'm not sure if that is when Caritas of Dakar started or if that is when the weavers and their association with Caritas began.  Either way it's been an extremely fruitful relationship.

Building space where the weavers are working

During our visit - I notice there were only men weavers and we asked if there were *any* women weavers and the answer shared with us was *no* - this is a traditional craft handed down by men but woman are involved!!  On the walls of their building were some paintings and they tell the story explaining the role of men and woman in the process. 

The history has been established based on the man who picks the cotton because the woman are in their villages tending to their children and homes.

The women assist in the process  when the cotton is all picked and needs to be cleaned, and dyed  This was a task that could be managed while also managing the family.

I'm not sure about the spinning since we saw the spinning taking place on site.


A couple questions came up regarding the loom: it can take up to 3 days to set it up for a particular design and length to be woven. The width of the fabric is adjustable but was limited to what seemed like no more than a meter (just a tad bit more than 3 feet) - but I'm not sure. And the length can vary but at most the woven length would be the length of 3 tall people  I think that was what was translated  ~ 5 1/2 meters ? - While it looks like it could be more - when you look at the loom and all the yarn - there has to be all that extra yarn accounted for just to keep everything taught  as it is needs to be unscrolled at one end while it is being completed in a pile by the weavers feet at the other.

All these beautiful rolls of fabric they create can be turned into tablecloths, wallets, handbags, clothes using strips of the fabric and  even designs incorporated into shoes!


Of course I could not leave this place without browsing their shop - this is of course how they make money - either through their boutique or special orders.  While not only getting a chance to meet and make new friends - I was also given the nod to shed my backpack for a real African/Senegalese designed and crafted bag. It will always mean alot to me to use it now!

Our thoughts on this now - find a piece of fabric and turn it into a cover for Manning's Nook - how cool would that be!

1 comment:

  1. I would love to have one of those handcrafted bags. They could be sold on Etsy. Beautiful!