Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pa Brimah Daru - master Mende Weaver

Pa Brimah Daru came from Daru in the Kailahun District of the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. He was the closest example of an entrepreneur that I met while in Sierra Leone. He hustled throughout our area with small, well-woven table mats of both indigo and Kola (brown) color. He knew that Europeans in the area would buy these attractive items for their tables - and thus he ran about the area selling these. Bargaining with him as was the local way was always challenging.  
He had one lazy eye and was probably blind in that eye. However he was a weaver of cotton country cloth and was well-known in the area weaving many a blanket for Paramount Chiefs in the area. From time to time I would run into him in Kenema where he would be peddling place mats to Europeans in our area. The mats were more complex than the striped cloth that also was made in the area. One Sunday I traveled with Susan and a friend named Patrick Garlough (whose family came from the Kailahun area) to see Pa Brimah's works, and also to commission him to make me a large wrap called a kpokpoi in Mende.  Meticulously honest - he could drive a hard bargain as we negotiated a price for his work. I was aware that cotton cloth was becoming rare as people were more likely to buy the machine made cloth that was being peddled from Europe. Country cloth was labor intensive to make from the growing of the cotton with the rice, to the harvesting of the cotton at the end of the rain season, to the cleaning of the cotton by the women, to the making of cotton thread by the women, and then the dying of thread ( either indigo or various shades of this, to the brown kola nut color). The thread would be put on large spools and then given to the weavers - in Mende country the weavers were always men. Of course it was much easier to just buy cloth in the store - but in upcountry Mendeline in those days there was an admiration for fine country cloth weaving - especially as Pa Brima Daru produced it. The making of Country cloth was an endangered art in those days. And Pa Brimah Daru was an artist seeing to it that this art of making cotton country cloth did not die. 
Pa Brima Daru at his loom
in Daru - Kailahun District

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