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August 6, 2013

Indigo cloth brings local, African people together

Women make template of 'Dalabags' for use in New Guinea

WEST NEWBURY — A chance encounter at a museum a year ago has led to a unique cultural and economic exchange opportunity between local citizens and a group of women entrepreneurs in Africa.

In spring 2012, Main Street resident John Hutchison attended an artisan sale at Fitchburg Art Museum. His purpose was to sell stitch resist indigo-dyed damask cloth and tote bags created by women in a city called Dalaba, located in the West African Republic of Guinea. Hutchison, professor emeritus of Boston University African Studies Center, is co-founder of the sister-city organization, Alliance Dalaba-West Newbury.

As luck would have it, one of Hutchison’s customers that day was textile designer and art teacher Ruth Suyenaga. Intrigued by the beauty of the intricately designed indigo cloth, Suyenaga offered recommendations on how to better fabricate the tote bags. Hutchison convinced the Royalston resident to donate her services to improve the design of the “Dalabags.”

“The goal was to get the women of Dalaba producing high-quality products for the American market using their own locally produced textiles,” Hutchison said. Lois Ferguson of Glean and Gain, an NGO for women’s health, also participated in the collaborative process.

The next month, Hutchison and the others invited several African women currently living in North America to attend a sewing workshop led by Suyenaga at the Boston University African Studies Center (BUASC).

With help from assistant, Maureen Blasco, she worked with the group to develop templates that would be used by the woman working at a cooperative back in Dalaba that is run by a woman named Hadja Nafissatou Bah. Hadja works to educate and empower both girls and their mothers in order to address generational problems associated with the early and arranged marriages that have for so long characterized traditional society there.

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