Smock weaving, an indigenous textile production has been a prominent rural enterprise for generations in the Northern, Savannah, Northeast, Upper East, and Upper West regions of Ghana. With generations of artisans focusing on weaving the fabric and others putting together the pieces of the woven fabrics to produce assorted designs.
With smocks being sold in the local and international market, the industry over the last years has also created employment for past and present generations. The interest in smock weaving has also preserved the cultural heritage of the people in these regions. The smock is a key feature in the chieftaincy institution in the Upper East region for instance.
With embroided symbols of prestige and power such as sword, smocks are won in honour and admiration by traditional rulers and people of high social status. Their colours and symbols form an element of nonverbal communication in the various ethnicities in northern Ghana. Although fashion trends have caught up with the wearing of smocks locally and internationally, smocks still serve as object of ethnic identity. Their shapes and designs determine where they are made and the story behind the designs.
Smock weaving according to history was a preserve of men, but women have gradually ventured into the industry and thriving competitively. This makes the industry one of the few rural enterprises closing male dominance. Despite its socio-economic potential, the woes of the already challenged industry is worsening due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A meeting with various female smock weavers’ groups in the Talensi, Nabdam, Bolga East districts and Bolgatanga municipality reveal costs of cotton and thread have increased drastically. Madam Patience Apalazoedga of the Peace and Love weavers’ women group in the Bolgatanga municipality asserted that before COVID-19, a box of thread was sold at GhC 45.80 but now is GhC 90.20 Ghana.”
Again, a big box of thread that used to trade at GhC 55 now sells at GhC 115. Adding that, “Producers of the thread are always complaining that COVID-19 is affecting production, you might get it cheaper in Kumasi, but when you think about the cost involved in travelling and time it will take, we are sometimes compelled to buy the threads in Bolga or Tamale.”
“Due to high cost of materials, we usually roam the entire market comparing prices before purchasing. This is hectic and time wasting, she notes”, Portia Ayinga of the Anoyine Tigetaaba Sumbrungu Hand Weavers Association intimated.
The story is not different in the Talensi district as Rose Adongo of the Winkongo Weavers Association shared a similar challenge.
“Before March 2020, a thread was sold at GhC 57 cedis but now sells at GhC 110. Each day prices keep on increasing, today the cost of a warp is between 60-80 Ghana cedis, but we used to buy it at 45-50 Ghana cedis before COVID-19.”
Though business is gradually bouncing back, the excessive cost in production materials is preventing the women from breaking even.
“We cannot stop the weaving, this was passed on to me by my grandmother and great grandmother, and it is all I have leant to do all these years”, says Assibi Yen of the Tongo weavers Association,” Adonto insisted.
It was discovered that some traders in the region hoarded the already scarce thread, yarns, fills and are now trading them at exorbitant prices. The weavers want factories and investors to pay attention to the smock industry in the region. The women also require modernised tools and materials to help improve their business.
The information communication and knowledge management manager of the Bolgatanga Business Resource Centre, Muhammed Tayyib Umar Kuta, confirmed the various challenges confronting the weavers.
“Smocks are well-known recently, and in demand, but people cannot afford them because the pandemic has thrown many out of business.”
Kuta also disclosed that aside the high cost of weaving materials, the inability of the weavers to source information about various interventions is also fuelling the challenges they are confronted with. He explains that government in collaboration with Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and Japan International Corporation Agency have initiated various interventions to help women in trade and vocation. Adding, “the National Entrepreneurship Innovation Programme and Global Affairs Canada are putting measures in place aimed at creating opportunities for women in male dominated trades. Women, including the smock weavers are to be supported with start up capitals to boost their business.”
He is encouraging the weavers to visit the business resource centre for relevant information regarding support.
This story is supported by Journalists for Human Rights under the Mobilizing Media to Fighting COVID-19 project.
Edited by Zubaida Mabuno Ismail.
Source: Felix Lambert Dangma| www.zamireports.com| Upper East.