Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Globalization of the Rural Swazi Weaver: Lavumisa Women in the Commercial Handicraft Industry, 1981-2013

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Globalization of the Rural Swazi Weaver: Lavumisa Women in the Commercial Handicraft Industry, 1981-2013

Article excerpt

In general, "handicraft" refers to hand-made items. For purposes of this paper, essential handicraft refers to handcraft produced for personal use and not for sale. Commercial handicraft is produced for sale for cash returns for the benefit of the producer. Rural handicraft refers to handicraft produced in the rural or communal areas, while African handicraft refers to handicraft that produced in Africa.

From time immemorial Swazi women and men produced essential handicraft on a small scale for domestic use and for trading in their villages. Swazi women and men produced products at a small scale for domestic use and for trading in their villages. They produced wares like sleeping grass mats, grass brooms, pottery, sisal dishes, bead work, and baskets which were produced mostly by women. These products were designed by the women without western formal training. (3) The original creativity reflected in the designs of their craftsmanship was embedded in their political, economic and social culture. Such Swazi culturally derived handicrafts were transformed with the development of the sub-regional capitalist economy. Gender differences in the focus on commercial handicraft started with colonization. Male labour migration for low-wage employment called for the women left behind to look to alternative means of making a living. In drier parts of Swaziland characterized by massive migration of men, commercial handicraft production became a viable source of income for women.

Women in commercial handicraft in Africa have received attention from scholars who emphasize the economic benefits of rural handicraft. Melinda Ebert (1977) highlights the economic value of basketry among the Basarwa men and women in Botswana. Jonathan Stockland (1978) focuses on Benin women crafters who benefited from commercial handicraft. Rhoda Livinsohn (1980) emphasizes not only the socio-economic value of craft production among the Kwazulu women, but also the resilience of their traditional skills in commercial handicraft. Similarly, Richard Roberts (1984) demonstrates the socio-economic importance of craft production among the Maraka women in Middle Niger. Terry and Cunningham's (1993) focus on basketry in Southern Africa reveals that basketry in the drought prone Karirangwe (Zimbabwe) constituted the major source of income. Likewise, Konstant, T.L.S. Sullivan and A.B Cunningham (1995) demonstrate that basketry in the former Owambo region of Northern Namibia provided women with the means of generating income. Focusing on the technical aspects of handicraft, Terry (2000) reflects on the amount of human and financial resources that kept the Botswana craft sector going. Terry (2001) demonstrates the broad characteristics of Botswana's handicraft producers, products, raw materials, and marketing structures. Michael Lee Yoffe (1978), Gerard Darwin (1975) and Richard Roberts (1987) note that the globalization of handicraft either destroyed African handicraft as an industry, or technically destroyed creativity and originality in the African handicraft coiling and weaving patterns. There are scholars who have highlighted the role of women in handicraft production in other parts of the world. For instance, Little (2004 and 2005) draws a link between political activism and tourist handicraft among the Maya in Central America. Against the backdrop of the existing scholarly works on commercial handicraft, this study traces changes over time in the development of women's commercial handicraft in Lavumisa.

This study explores the development of women's commercial handicraft industry in Lavumisa from small scale domestic producers to large scale commercialized production. Since women's commercial handicraft industry in Lavumisa was established specifically for women, it is appropriate to study women's handicraft in Lavumisa within the context of the "women and development (WAD)" theory because "women have always been important economic actors in their societies . …

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