The Threats Firmly in their Hands

They are popular souvenirs and regularly find their way into the luggage of visitors to Ethiopia: Ethiopian scarves in vibrant colours or pure white, with colourful decorations, sometimes a bit stronger at other times delicately woven into a light fabric.

But not all scarves are the same. Each one has its own meaning and purpose. Deressa Regassa’s life revolves around gabis and netelas. He lives in Abune Ginde Beret and is a known weaver in Bake Kelate. The cloths he weaves are traditional scarves. Gabis are strongly woven cloths, almost as big as blankets, and are worn by men. Netelas, on the other hand, are worn by women. They are fine cloths, but kept in white just like gabis, and decorated with a colourful interwoven edging.

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The production of these scarves requires a certain skill, and of course a weaver who produces particularly artful decorations can sell the beautiful pieces for a better price. To learn this Deressa attended a weaving course from Menschen für Menschen. There he not only learned how to improve and refine his technique, but he also worked with a modern loom, which he bought at a subsidised price following the course.

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In the past Deressa worked traditionally, just like his fellow weavers, with a foot operated loom for which he had to dig a hole into the ground. Today he sits at his new loom in the house. “I’m not faster now,” he says during a short visit to his home, “but the quality is much better. I also don’t injure myself anymore. I could only operate the old loom with my toes – barefoot -, and often injured my feet doing that.”

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While Deressa happily works away at his new loom, Genet Tolera is only just at the start of this new stage in her life when we first met her in 2014: the mother of five attends a sewing course in Bake Kelate. “I attend the sewing course to be able to support my children properly in the future and change things in the house,” says Genet Tolera.

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The course is aimed specifically at women like Genet, who only have little land to adequately feed their families. The course participants also need to bring with them basic experience. “I already took on mending jobs before. But I had to borrow a machine for this, and so I didn’t get to keep much of my earnings” says Genet.