PRESERVING ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST SOUGHT-AFTER MATERIALS
African blackwood and African redwood are both extremely coveted around the world as exotic wood types. Members of the broader redwood family, these ancient trees take over 75 years to mature. Their history spans back 5,000 years to the Egyptian pyramids. Historic, rare and slow growing - this timber is not suitable material for mass-produced floors, furniture or frankly, any manufactured product.
Blackwood is particularly sought-after for musical instruments – it has a good grain structure and is very dense. It is considered the best wood of all for woodwind instruments but is also a highly respected guitar material. Used for handmade instruments and felled sparingly, the species has survived for centuries. But when Chinese companies arrive and begin harvesting mechanically and African blackwood plank flooring ends up on the shelves at Home Depot (2,200 stores), survival is not guaranteed.
Western logging companies have pillaged these forests. Local craftsmen, people who have worked with these woods sustainably for decades, are cast aside in the industrialization of Africa’s rare wood resources. There are “certification” requirements for export however, conservation and preservation groups have accumulated many illegal examples of such permits. In fact, most of the export permits are illegal.
The market’s insatiable appetite will lead to the loss of species if the overharvesting continues. There is a huge demand in China for furniture made from these woods and that demand is ravaging the rosewood forests of Africa. But not only the trees are being devastated - people like Amadou are losing their livelihood.
Amadou, master wood carver
Amadou is a master wood carver in Mali, Africa, who learned his craft on his father’s knee at the age of eight. He has made a living with wood ever since - in a sustainable fashion. Funny how that works. If you are hands on with nature and her resources and if you are connected in your heart to your art – sustainable is automatic.
Today, Mali’s forests continue to be leased and sold to foreign logging companies. Amadou can only make a living by picking up the scraps they leave for locals, the pieces they consider “unsuitable” for their high-end mass production furniture. Some branches are too small for them to bother with, some have white markings on the black wood – a stunning mark which you will see in Amadou’s remarkable pieces.
After serious consideration, we concluded that carrying Amadou’s extraordinary pieces is indeed an ethical sourcing decision. Amadou’s creations are made from scraps that are left behind. This was his craft and livelihood before the logging companies came. We will never have more than a limited run each year as not to create or increase demand.
Our profits from these incredible pieces will go back into expanding our partnerships in the region (think: micro loans with distribution support) and will also be used to replant and reforest areas that have been overwhelmed by international companies.
Amadou will support his family using his own country’s natural resources. And a few lucky ethical consumers will be taking home far more than a piece of wood.
At Obakki, we always want to know more about the people behind our products. These five questions do just that. Today, we talk to Jack, one of our artisans from the Kibera neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya.
At Obakki, we work with our artisan partners to help them reach their goals, which often emphasize better access to international markets. And as it happens, access to a global market is part of what we are readily able to provide.
Japan’s craftsmanship is based on process and precision. But for a craft to survive in modern societies, it needs to speak to modern needs. And Japan, as a country, respects the ancient techniques and traditions that built this cultural heritage.