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The changing faces of Kiondo

KIONDO is a traditional handwoven bag that is made by sisal or boabab fibre. Many Kenyan communities practice this art which is predominantly women- dominated. They include the Akamba, Agîkûyû and Taitas.
Kakuswi Women Group weaving modern Kiondos. MWINGI TIMES/Josphine Mwende

The making of such artifact was made to sustain the community's culture and to bring a clear correlation to the essence of their being.

With the passing of time, Kiondo making has changed. Women from these communities make kiondos as a means of earning a living by selling them to diverse customers.

In Kitui County, women have formed an organization called Shalom Women Group which draws members from two other counties of Ukambani; Makueni and  Machakos as well as Nairobi City and Kajiado. The women have embraced modern technology to make kiondos.
Kitui County women groups being trained about modern weaving. MWINGI TIMES/Josphine Mwende

The ancient kiondos were made from sisal and other trees with natural fibre grown on family land. They were available for free.

But due to climate change and environmental degradation, the women in this business told MWINGI TIMES that they now make kiondos using alternative means which are affordable.

Some of the new raw materials in making kiondos are banana fibre, nappier grass and use of artificial colours from a tree found in Ukambani called Mwaae. The business ladies also use concentrated tea leaves to blend them in different colours for attraction. "Make strings from sisal and banana fibre. Soak them in hot water which is mixed with Mwaae. Then let the fibre dry in the sun and then weave the strings. Now, your Kiondo will be ready for use", said Ms Elizabeth Ngina, one of the trainers.
Modern Kiondos from Kitui County on display.MWINGITIMES/Josphine Mwende 

The women are supported by the government through the Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency in partnership with COMESA, a regional trade  outfit that helps them export their kiondos for sale.

The Kiondo making groups told us that they encounter a number of challenges in their work. They include a belief that weaving kiondos is only reserved for elderly women. Most of the kiondos makers are elderly women.  There is need to pass the skills to young women through training, the trainers said.


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