Environmental degradation leads to collapse of Bunyoro’s handicraft industry

Mr Mathias Balyesiima's Art & Crafts Shop at Kiganda Middle Cell in East Division, Hoima City. (Image: Joseph Uzelle/Kazi-njema News

Diminishing plant-based raw materials due to massive environmental destruction in Uganda has paved the way for the disappearance of indigenous handicrafts in the country and enhanced the importation of artificial handicraft products from foreign countries.

That substitution has failed some disciplines in Uganda with Hoima feeling the shrill brunt as some social events that require the use of traditional handcrafts remain paralysed despite consumers yearning for them.

Hardly can institutions that used drums in their services or activities at present buy them, forcing them to abandon the items and forego such activities or resorting to imported western items.

Recently, some primary schools in Hoima did not participate in Music Dance and Drama (MDD) competitions arguing that they were unable to buy traditional musical instruments like drums with a medium size one costing Shs200,000.

Most if not all churches in Greater Hoima, abandoned the use of drums for calling congregants for church services with those in the city resorting to sounding gongs due to the high cost of traditional wooden drums coupled with the influence of western musical instruments.

Local choirs that used traditional wooden musical instruments like tube fiddles (endingidi), long drum (engaabi), xylophone (amadiinda) and others are almost dying off because certain tree species where they used to be made of are extremely scarce due to being destroyed for a number of activities including charcoal burning and large scale farming like sugarcane growing that does not favour any existence of any tree in the plantation.

The invasion of wetlands has rendered basketry a dying handiwork since plants used in weaving baskets are almost extinct due to the reclaiming of marshy areas for agriculture where they grow.

Handicraft items at Mr Mathias Balyesiima’s Art & Crafts Shop in Hoima City. (Image: Joseph Uzelle/Kazi-njema News)

Mr Mathias Balyesiima, a dealer in traditional items like hats woven from palm tree leaves among other crafts in Hoima Central Market, says due to environmental degradation, there is scarcity for handicrafts since weavers cannot access plant-based raw materials used in making handiwork products.

This has given popularity to foreign products to dominate the market.

“Most of the target customers like schools, churches and other institutions have resorted to using foreign musical instruments like pianos which reduced the demand for traditional items, hence, creating a wider market for imported products over the locally made ones,” Mr Balyesiima says.

Audio: Balyesiima on traditional handicrafts (English)

Uncontrolled handicraft making has also contributed to environmental degradation because traditional item makers and weavers harvest the plant-based raw materials without replanting.

The fact that some of the raw materials like trees meant for making traditional items like drums and mortars and pestles require total tree felling, there is no replacement by replanting them for future use.

However, Mr Balyesiima says it is difficult to get seedlings of such wild trees like omubumbo used for making mortars for them to replant for posterity though he urges the harvesters to strive to get and plant them for the perpetuation of traditional items through their workmanship.

He also asks the government to revive handiwork lessons in schools which involved granary weaving, basketry, pottery for earthenware, papyrus mat making and palm tree leaf mat weaving among others as a way of preserving traditional vessels; but all made possible through strict environmental conservation.

An attendant in a handicraft shop at Kiganda Middle Cell in East Division, Hoima City. (Image: Joseph Uzelle/Kazi-njema News)

Mr Moses Semahunge Amooti, the Manager Bulindi Chimpanzee and Community Project (BCCP), says over exploitation of natural resources for maximum utilisation inconsiderate of the available amount is an extinction trap to mother earth’s raw materials.

He blames the fronted government officials to preserve natural resources for doing contrary to their designations, watching as environmental laws are being breached for individual gains at the expense of natural resources.

The manager cautions that failure to determine the amount of the natural resources for controlled action and enhancing their availability for a cause, will render dependents on the natural resources jobless.

Audio: Semahunge on regulation (English)

“If we don’t determine the amount that we have, we shall over exploit the resource and in the near future we shall not have what to depend on. The makers and dealers rely on the conservation of natural resources and the government should ensure that there is a law put in place to regulate the local handicraft making industry for fair use of the natural resources,” he says.

Audio: Semahunge on exploitation (English)

Mr Semahunge also suggests that local handcraft makers should be mobilised in groups for better operation.

Audio: Semahunge on organisation (English)

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