Monday, May 27, 2024

Colonialisms last battle – the complete extinction of handmade goods!


The most sustainable home in Africa. At the sound of it it was an amazing accomplishment. But there was something a little hollow about it. Although we had taken time to work with the students and create a beautiful home that was built from sustainable materials. There was a part of it that just wasn’t right. The contributions of the students from Cadi Ayad University, a portion of the team that was supported by Freedom builders in Atlanta, to develop what later became the winning home for the US Department of energy solar decathlon in Africa, brought something unexpected, Ikea!

When we set out to build the home, we insisted on using the same materials that we were creating in the United States to give power back to our people to fulfill the most simple and basic rights that any human being should have, the right to proper shelter. As a way to lean on the expertise of others on the team, the interior decorations were left to the Moroccan students. The thought was that a place like Morocco, with the historical city of Fez and the bustling economy of handmade goods in Marrakesh, would produce a set of individuals that would dig deep into the heritage of handmade crafts and provide amazing artifacts for the home. That was very far from the case. As Moroccans are still heavily bound by the curse of colonialism.

As one of the first major trading cities in northwestern Africa, Fez Morocco has stayed exactly as it was 800 years ago. The first degree granting University in the entire world, one of the oldest leather cooperatives on the planet, over 10 miles of winding streets laced on either side with artisans making handmade crafts in a manner that would have been prevalent before a single ship ever set from the shores of Europe to colonize the world. This is the setting that we expected the students of Morocco to venture into in order to find beautiful handmade and hand-cut chandeliers, handmade leather for couches and pillows, handmade wood work from the master carvers for our cabinets and our shelves. Instead the very first thought that came to the mind of the young Moroccan was the fill the house with furniture from the new Ikea store that has now been open in Morocco for the last 3 years. A decision that was seconded multiple times from all of their fellow students and professors.

But, it’s not like this shouldn’t be expected. A, in the United States we have seen a resurgence of the demand for handmade goods, what is known as the developing world, still maintains a deep desire for mass-produced products. Even though there is an abundance of Craftsman still available in their countries. To any American it would seem no less than Ludacris that a person who can walk down the street and have a piece of clothing custom made for less than we could by a cheap knock off, would then choose the knock off. Moroccans as well as the North African, sub-Saharan African, southern African, middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Central Asian neighbors see the modern styles of mass-produced products as a sign of influence and the symbol that they have arrived at a higher class and standing, not only in their society, but in the World at Large. And the thought of buying handmade goods is seen as an experience that should be limited to the poorest people in their society.

This was an intentional outcome of colonialism. As colonialism made itself to the world it also attached its perceptions and the maturity path of Europe to every society on Earth. There was a time when Europeans valued handmade goods so much that the kings and queens of the time mandated that the best artisans govern the production of all goods in their countries. A system that became known as The guild system insisted that all artisans become apprentice to approved guild Craftsman. The guild system also insured that there would be no product on the open market that had not been made buy a local Craftsman. But there was a loophole. The Islamic and the Mongol empires had produce excellent Craftsman that brought products and innovations to the world that Europe could not deny. As a result, products brought along the silk road we’re allowed to be sold by merchants in the markets of Europe.

Unable manufacture products inside of Western Europe without the explicit permission of the guild Craftsman, who acted no less than that of an organized Mafia, merchants who did not want to traverse the dangers of the silk road decided to find an innovative method to produce products within their own countries. This gave birth to what was known as The cottage system or the putting out system. In this system a merchant would go from Village to Village getting small parts of a production put together by people who were capable of doing a single task in the construction of a good. In the example of a piece of clothing, a merchant would go first and buy the wool from sheep farmers. Then, he would deliver the wool to an entirely different village, where someone would spin the wool into yarn. He would then pick up the yarn and go to another village where someone could make fabric. And then yet several other villages until the product was finished and he could sell it at the market.

Legally, this method of producing goods fell within the guidelines of imported goods and allowed the merchant to bypass the guild system and remove himself from the control of the guild Mafia. However, it soon became a daunting task to traverse through the multiple villages in order to put together products. So merchants got a little clever. They decided to build centralized warehouses. Then they instructed the same Village goers to bring their products to the centralized warehouse and pick up their goods from the centralized warehouse for producing to the next stage. This was the beginning of industrialization.

Being ever more greedy, merchants decided that it was better for the villagers to move around the warehouse and then come and conduct their portion of the construction of the products within the warehouse. This became the first factory in Europe. It did not go unnoticed by the leadership of the countries that this system existed. However, being an efficient system, the merchants gain power over the guild Craftsman. The next phase of their development galvanized in the 1600’s. This would be the century that the Islamic empire would lose its hold on Spain and Portugal as Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand worked with Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope John II, to instate a system of international colonialism and mass slavery.

But unknown to many people, this slavery’s function was to feed what was known as the mercantile system. The mercantile system had evolved out of the advancements in the cottage system. It held that merchants could go abroad to retrieve raw goods but they could not sell anything in Europe or maintain their status in European society, unless the products themselves were assembled in Europe. This simple economic law refrained Europeans from buying handmade goods along the silk road. It encouraged international trade and the development of plantations for raw materials throughout the world. In addition, as it was a system that was implied on the rest of the world with authority of a ruling power over the countries Europeans entered, it also restricted all local persons from being able to make any finish goods from the raw materials they gathered. This was a legal system that encouraged colonialism and built the foundation of slavery.

As Europe and later the United States, became the centers of production the engines of progress also became centered on these spaces. With the invention of the coal powered steam engine in the late 1800s, the world gave way to the merchants dream. What is known in history as the industrial revolution, was the ability to have a machine do the work of a hundred men. Political pressure mounting and the daunting task of maintaining a hold on so many spaces and people, the use of machines in order to produce goods was it gift that every European or American merchant would have told you was from the heavens. In addition, the use of these machines for production would replace not only the production of common handmade goods but also give way to the mass production of things like vehicles and weapons. The merchant was no longer considered a merchant he was considered a manufacturer.

Once manufacturing led to the mass production of weapons it developed some of the largest war machines in history. As an inevitable consequence of the rest of the world not using manufacturing at this scale, World war 1 saw the complete and utter destruction of non modern industrialized society. This meant the fall of the Ottoman empire and, at the time, the reduction of Muslim governed countries to zero.

A leader in manufacturing, Germany rose as a superpower. Challenging the entire world with the idea that the Aryan race was the most Superior set of human beings on the planet. In World war II the industrialized machine pushed 120 battalions of the military into Russia and throughout Eastern Europe. A force that was ten times greater then the Force unleashed on the United States, the UK and allied forces. The move to take Russia gave birth to the iron hand of Stalin. Unknown to many of us in the West, Russia loss almost 70% of their population do to attacks in World war II. Even though Stalin is best known for absolute cruelty to people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, he became an effective evil. By stopping the onslaught of central Asians and Eastern Europeans by Germans, he himself gathered them as a workforce through his own cruel measures.

Stalin consolidated entire populations to parts of Russia where he could do in five years what the West did in 200 years, build an industrialized superpower. Through the course of World War II, Russia develop more planes vehicles weapons and other goods then their counterparts in the West. This feat is what established Russia as the mega power of the East until modern day. After World war II subsided it was clear the industrial systems of the United States, the UK, Russia, and Japan were the absolute symbols of authority and power.

It only takes one generation for a set of children to forget the suffering of their parents and instead focus on acquiring the symbols and the mechanisms to establish their own self identity and their own concept of power and control. We find ourselves in the set of such generations in the world today.

For the developing world the desire to become industrialized nations runs all the way to the core of what it means to have control and freedom over your life. For the average person in any developed country the idea of going back to handmade goods and encouraging the development of handmade products is not a symbol of craftsmanship or intelligence but yet a symbol of their failure to focus on the things that will ensure that they are people that can be in control of their future.

Many times, African Americans are hard to judge other people in developing worlds. As Booker t Washington said the negro was enslaved by industrialization and therefore will never associate industrialization with freedom. This would mean the outcome of our slavery is in direct contrast to the outcome of the previously colonized world.

Whereas we value handmade goods and we hold high the idea of having a tailor-made suit or custom made leather bag our brethren see it as a symbol of weakness. And for the common man it goes less to understanding the necessity to manufacture your own goods and more into the necessity to simply possess a piece of the modern mass-produced world. It is in that outcome that colonialism finds its greatest victory and is constantly winning its last battle. It is not enough to have symbols of industrialization but yet to be the individuals that own the knowledge of how to create the systems and the means by which to develop goods for ourselves.

New generations born to the under developed world can only see the cream. Seeing what those in the developed world have, partnered with a rush and a desire to have a certain feeling of empowerment in one’s life, the time for handmade goods has passed. This desire is magnified greatly by what has become an instant society. The outcome of which proved to be an absolute victory for the colonizers on the previous colonized populations. Even in their desire to grow powerful they destroy themselves.

In Europe and the United States, the effects of mass production are taking their toll. As a guinea pig to the world on the long-term effects of industrialization, we have begun to realize the dangers of a mass production system. The overall destruction and violation of our food Systems. The harmfulness of the products put on clothing and in the materials used to build our homes, has become something that we are fully aware is harmful to our lives. Therefore, most Americans, white or black, have a desire to hold handmade goods to the highest of value.

In stark contrast, the United Nations division on intangible heritage tracks the loss of culture through the loss of skills used to make handmade goods in developing nations. As young people in developing nations choose to go to universities instead of taking on the skills of their grandfathers, the ability to manufacture their own goods and the necessity to do so is dying. The UNESCO list of intangible heritage says the risk of extinction of handmade goods stretches to almost every single country of the developing world and encompasses more than 2,000 skills. The loss of the culture and the true base of unique empowerment of the developing world it’s nothing short of inevitable.

The light at the end of the tunnel is in us. As members of the diaspora and those displaced most by colonization, African Americans have the opportunity to take the best lessons of the developed world into the underdeveloped countries. By using our expertise and knowledge to share with our brethren it is possible to develop a future where Mass manufacturing meets the quality and the rich culture of handmade goods. This has the possibility to deliver us to a future where we are in power and control of ourselves as well as leaders on the Earth.

Article written collectively buy Hassan Wilson and Faruq Hunter. Hassan Wilson is the general manager for Sayyad lifestyle goods. Sayyad lifestyle goods is a brand that focuses on bringing the best of handmade products from former colonized and former enslaved populations to the hands of those who can take the greatest pride in having products that are made by themselves. Currently Hassan travels the world to discover great artisans and bring their products to international markets. Learn more at http://sayyad.life

Faruq Hunter
Faruq Hunterhttp://www.freedomnation.me
Faruq Hunter is the founder of the Freedom Nation, an aspiring real-estate community development company providing development, financial tools, programs and services to streamline the development of environments of peace and prosperity for underserved communities on a global scale, Uniquely, the company is dedicated to embodying practices of fairness, equality, transparency and communal involvement as a part of its everyday operations and cultural DNA.

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