At nearly seven feet tall, draped in his traditional Tuareg robe of indigo, Elhadji Koumama stands as a monument to generations of Koumama craftsmen and their history.
Saharan nomads until the 1970s when they settled in Niger, Africa, the Koumama family belongs to a class of the Tuareg people called Inadan, or people who work with fire and metals. Using simple hand tools and implements that could be easily transported on camels—such as screwdrivers, nails, safety pins, files, charcoal, and handheld bellows—Tuareg craftsmen have plied their trade for centuries.
Mohamed Koumama, one of the most famous Tuareg silversmiths, led the family business until his death in 2004. He trained his sons—including Elhadji, his grandsons, and his extended family in the 1,000-year-old traditions of his forefathers. Today, under the leadership of Elhadji Koumama, the Koumama family remains world-renowned for creating unique high quality silver jewelry made using traditional Tuareg methods.
Worn only by men, one of the most distinctive features of the Tuareg is the indigo veil, for which they have been nicknamed “Blue Men of the Sahara,” or “Men of the Veil.” The romantic image of tall, regal men in flowing robes with only their eyes visible riding great white camels is only a part of the Tuareg story. Niger remains one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking last on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. It is a landlocked, sub-Saharan nation, whose economy centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Small and industrious family businesses like the Koumamas’ have both benefitted from and contributed to Fair Trade standards, implemented to foster developing communities around the world.
This weekend, Koumama family jewelry will be available at the Third Annual Fair Trade Bazaar at the de Young, August 2–3 in the Piazzoni Murals Room. Elhadji Koumama himself will be present, along with 16 other Fair Trade artisans and organizations, all of whom will offer a diverse selection of goods including jewelry, textiles and native handcrafts. From the Guatemalan highlands and Honduras to Laos, Central Asia, Kashmir, Haiti and the Sahara, these artisans and organizations represent the communities from around the world that have benefitted from Fair Trade practices. Admission is free and open to the public.
Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade. – FINE NETWORK