Artisan Story: Vestine Uwamariya, Abibumbye Cooperative

“It’s a gift that God gives you.” Vestine turned her handwoven sisal bowl over to reveal an intricate pattern. She began selling her woven bowls in the market when she was 10 years old. A uniquely gifted weaver, she finds inspiration in the designs all around her and uses them to create beautifully unique woven bowls, like the Flight Baskets and Round Table Baskets which are a part of Azizi Life’s newest collection.

Now 22 years old, Vestine has finished secondary school and devotes her time to weaving with her cooperative and at home in the rural village.  In fact, it was at home that Vestine’s weaving story began.  Vestine’s mother (Mama Vestine) was a weaver, her baskets being her only means to earn income to supplement the family’s tiny farm. When she was able to sell her craft, Mama Vestine could further support the family with important items like soap and clothing. Vestine is the firstborn in her family, and as a young girl would watch her mama weaving, longing to be able to weave herself. When Vestine was 8 years old, her mama began to teach her how to take their locally gathered grasses and stitch sisal fibers around and around to create a woven bowl. Sadly, Mama Vestine would not live to see her daughter develop into an expert weaver. She passed away unexpectedly the next year, leaving her husband and three children. The young widower, faced with raising his daughters and son alone, chose to remarry within just a few months.

Young Vestine continued the weaving that her mama had taught her, and by the time she was in second grade, she was crafting bowls beautiful enough to draw customers – and income. It was not long before Vestine wanted to share her gift. She taught her sister to weave, as well as children from her neighborhood. Wanting others to have the means to rise from poverty, Vestine began to teach adults within her community to weave, including her new mama. With time, Vestine had two new sisters to teach!

Vestine Uwamariya, Abibumbye Cooperative

Vestine holding her Flight bowl design while wearing the gitenge that inspired the design around her waist.

It is a challenge for most weavers to take an established pattern and weave it with perfect balance and excellence in every stitch, but Vestine sees beyond established patterns. Last year, she spotted her neighbor wearing a fabric with an interesting floral design. “May I borrow your fabric?” she asked. She began, as she always does, with a small round disc, weaving the black sisal around to create rows which spiraled outward like a snail shell. Then she wove her first spot of color, then a second spot, then a third, fourth, fifth and sixth, perfectly spaced in a circle. From there, she wove outward, the fabric’s pattern emerging with the addition of each row of weave, finishing with a row of black to enclose her design as the bowl reached its full 12 inch diameter. Her mama had a fabric which also caught her eye. Before long, Vestine had two unique bowls to bring to Azizi Life.  The staff was delighted! When her new designs were adopted into Azizi Life’s new collection, Vestine sat down with the women from her weaving cooperative and taught them the new designs as well. Now they are all gaining even more fair-wage income as they weave Vestine’s designs together.

As for Vestine, she can help her family in many ways with her weaving income: buying clothes for herself and her siblings, food for the family, and paying for national health insurance, to name a few. She also is saving through several savings groups and at the bank. Her dream is to put away enough capital from weaving to start a small business selling in the city market.

Azizi Life is honored to know and serve gifted, determined artisans like Vestine who serve their families and their communities through their craft.

Meet the Abibumbye weaving cooperative, and keep your eye out for more of her original creations later in the coming days!

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