Novella Di Paolo, my precious contributor, should have to be in charge with this post, but unfortunately she left me alone for serious personal reasons, even if I hope just for a period. So I wanted to leave the text as it was, that is the ‘freewheeling writing’ by Maria Teresa Pecchini, the brand manager of Esthéthique, the ethical brand that we, Novella and I, found out together at ‘Fa’ la cosa giusta!‘ in Milan last March. I just add two lines to introduce the brand, a beautiful initiative that comes from the project of Materia Critica, a design and communication studio formed by three young people from Emilia Romagna, who have set up a cooperative that has been active for thirty years in the supportive world. Esthéthique products are accessories, but also jewelry and high quality household items made by Madagascar craftsmen, born from relationships based on the principles of fairness, respect and personal growth. Maria Teresa Pecchini, who has been hanging out Madagascar for over 30 years and who has lived there for two consecutive years, knows well the reality of the place, which she carries inside her along with its people and its contradictions. I let her story talking and the rest will do the accompanying images.
“The first steps in Madagascar are always a collection of perfumes and colors, of faces and sounds that welcome you. A language that is music that caresses us, the smile of the children, the strong smell of spices that gets into your skin. The mind and the heart recognize this place, which is home. Also this year the heart of my journey were the producers, the meeting with their families, the work, the development of new products. It is always difficult to transmit what you feel in the encounter with them, to travel days, to stop and reflect together, to simply meet and know that we still want to work together (in Malagasy they say fiaramiasa or ‘work together’).
The first ones I would like to talk about are the raffia artisans and especially the women who make the bags. It is a group that has an ancient history with us: Rahasolofo is a Raiamand’reny (literally means father and mother, but means also a person rich in wisdom), in his village people process raffia, sisal, natural fibers, fibers that smell of earth, of nature. He work with us since 1990, I have seen his children grow up, I know his nephews, a big and beautiful family. He is now elderly and although it is undoubtedly a reference point for everyone, but today is Hasina, his daughter in law, who manages the activities, a real woman with 3 children, who has been processing raffia since very young, but despite this she did very well at high school. She is a curious, active, enterprising person, always eager to learn and discover new things, it is always a pleasure to meet her, chat with her, tell her and listen to her stories. I can not be in Madagascar and do not go to see them. Imeritsiatotsika, where they live, is about thirty miles away, but it takes a couple of hours to get there, the times in Madagascar are always long, dilated. With Hasina work 30 young and old women, 30 mothers with their children, each in their own home, a village in the countryside and a great desire to get involved. We talked about many things, they told me about their children, about the school, about the many husbands who had disappeared at Tsiroanomandidy, a city on the plateau where the zebu trade is flourishing and in Madagascar it is said that when a man went to Tsiroanomandidy he left his wife, sons and responsibilities, about the Dahaloo (the brigands) who attacked their village, about the many problems that afflict this country.
Cotton weaving is a traditional workmanship of Madagascar, especially in the plateau area. And traditional are the patterns that women weave on the canvas. The Alo-alo, literally ‘messengers’, are traditional steles that were originally made to decorate the tombs of the high-ranking dead, but which, over time, have become decorative objects used in different contexts. The artisans continue to weave
with traditional handlooms and often work in two on the same loom, because of the complexity of decorative patterns. Gisele is responsible for this group of artisans, married with 4 children, she fully represents the desire for redemption of these women. Antsena is a small village in the municipality of Sandrandray, just an hour from the town of Ambositra. About a dozen small family groups, coordinated by Madame Gisele, have been working with us since the end of the 80s. Also this year I have been to see them, to try to solve small quality problems, to develop new products, to test new colors and new ideas. They are all women eager to improve their work, to develop ideas and paths that will build different futures for their children, their villages. It’s nice to see them weave, hands that work fast, fingers that intertwine, eyes careful not to make mistakes and colors to compose the patterns, patterns and drawings that say about traditions and dreams, ideas and faith. There is something sacred in their work, magical, threads that seem to be mixed randomly that create images and thoughts. Once I read that in the Dogon language the same word means weaving and speaking and looking at Gisele, Prisca, Bakoly I can not help but think that weaving is really a language, that perhaps we still do not understand at all. An unexpected thing was to find out that this year they opened a small ‘bistro’ next to the association’s headquarters, where they make and sell street food for the students of the near school. Together we made a beautiful brunch made of pancakes with vegetables, mofo anana made with onion, cabbage, zucchini etc., small sambosy, triangles of rice pasta stuffed with meat and fried, mofo mamy, small cakes cooked on a plate, juice of grapes and pineapples. The beach towels, towels and other household linen are made by them and all woven on the handloom!
Soatanana is a small village in the rural municipality of Ambohimahazo, about two and a half hours off-road from the town of Ambositra. It is inhabited mainly by women; few are the men left to live there, they go in search of fortune and rarely return, leaving the women the task of raising their children and keeping the family. The processing of wild silk is a traditional working of the area, in fact here were the Landybe, silk fabrics, woven to wrap the dead before the burial. The working techniques used by our artisans are the same as ever but, thanks to the training, new models and colors were created. About 40 women process silk in this village lost
in the mountains and Odette follows the production and is responsible for coordinating the activities of other women. It starts from the harvest of wild worms that are found in the few forests of Tilapia, it is an endemic Madagascar worm that is eaten and used mainly as nourishment for children because it is highly protein. Women do everything, from harvest to cooking, from spinning to dyeing with herbs and plants, of the thread. They intertwine silk on the looms and in every thread intertwine thoughts and dreams. They have been working with us for over 20 years and 3 years ago we started with them a new training to teach them the techniques of macramé to make necklaces with silk. At the beginning it was difficult, they did not think they could do it, they went out of their traditional work, they were out of their experience but every year they manage to make products of greater value and this makes them very proud. It’s a tidy village, well kept, lots of women, lots of children, men are always a sporadic presence but these women can also give their lessons of life to them too, of pride, of development skills, determined as they are to give a future to their children.
Every year, when the trip arrives at the end, I leave carrying in the eyes and in the heart the faces of these women, of their children and the certainty that all this work together is really an instrument for a righter and richer world”.
Thanks Maria Teresa Pecchini and thanks Novi ❤️