I have just been invited to Northern Kenya to work with the women of the semi-nomadic Pastoralist Samburu tribe with their wildcrafting business and help set up a fair trade platform that will make their lives a little easier, especially through the unpredictable droughts. As it is in many Patriarchal societies, life as a woman is no easy thing. Doing this work has been a dream of mine.
As they move with their animals through the semi-arid regions, these women collect Frankincense Neglecta, (black and white varieties) , Myrrh and Opoponax, (Commiphora Myrrha and C. Holtziana), resins and Gum Arabic. They have set up a co-op, collection depot, and I’m going to see if Apothecary’s Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense can help get their resins out to us directly at a fair price to them, and do so while sustaining the plants, their traditions and lifestyle.
Would you like to be part of this project?
This invitation came from an intriguing source-Andre and Maria of Indigenous Collective.org. An organization which listens to the land and the tribes, creating bridges, developing and testing new technologies around water, energy and nutrition to serve the Samburu, not change them.
In the words of Andre-
“THE PASTORAL FOLK OF THE WORLD USUALLY GET THE SHORT END OF DEVELOPMENT …. THEY ARE OFTEN REGARDED BY THEIR GOVERNMENTS AS BACKWARD & UNEDUCATED YET, THEY LIVE THE MOST SUSTAINABLE, BALANCED LIVES WITH SUCH A VERY LOW IMPACT ON THEIR ENVIRONMENT. BY DEFAULT THEIR PAST SURVIVAL SUCCESSES DEPENDED ON THEIR INHERENT ABILITY TO MOVE …. NOW, WITH SEDENTARY LIFESTYLES EMERGING THEIR SOCIO-ECONOMIC DYNAMIC IS RAPIDLY CHANGING …. THERE IS OFTEN A VERY SMALL WINDOW TO INTERVENE WITHOUT DISRUPTING AN ANCIENT CULTURAL HERITAGE.”
We need to change how we source our wild medicinals and fragrance materials. Many of them cannot be grown commercially in orderly rows and tended fields. And even if they could, in many cases vast tracts of forest and vegetation are destroyed to feed our growing appetite in the west. We are disrupting and losing delicate ecosystems around the world as our capitalist machine churns out billions of tons of products for our food, fragrance and medicinal needs.
Many of these natural resources, such as our precious fragrant and medicinal Frankincense and Myrrh species, Galbanum, Sandarac, Gum Arabic and many more will only grow in the harshest of conditions and in the most inaccessible areas.
Harvested most often by semi-nomadic tribes who see little of the premium we pay for these exotic treasures. Many of these clans and peoples live traditional pastoral lifestyles which haven’t changed or adapted to modern western society. Most receive a pittance, in cash or barter for small amounts of the basic necessities of life. Often a long chain of middlemen profit from the harvest till it reaches the corporations who process, package and distribute the finished products to us at prices astronomically higher than the return the harvesters see.
Sure, there are lots of things wrong with our world. It will never be perfect, but nothing will change until we choose to change it.
These indigenous roaming people across our little globe are the stewards of some of our most precious medicinal and fragrant plants. Often these trees have socio-cultural significance to these cultures and their value is appreciated far beyond the income they can generate. They are our stewards and the caretakers of our land, our medicinal and fragrant resources around the world. Our shared Apothecary Garden
They are the only ones who can monitor, care for, propagate and maintain these treasures, make sure future generations can also enjoy them. WE need to take care of these people, our planet, its stewards and wildcrafters. Regardless of perceived distance. We need to make sure our plant’s caretakers are being compensated properly, that their needs are met, their lifestyles and traditions are supported.
I believe this is much more than an opportunity to source ethical resins and help out a remote minority. It is part of a global movement of ethics, sustainability and change.
I have had a look at a list of plants that are in the area used by the Samburu. There are many other plant species that will interest the perfumers, incense makers, herbalists and horticulturists out there. Plant material that could be ethically and sustainably collected and shared with the world. Shared in a way that would also sustain the stewards.
I have a feeling about this project.
I have invited a photographer to document this process with the Samburu. Besides her professional work, she is willing to pitch in any way she can. With time, I can cover the cost of her flight and services through sales in my Etsy shop, and through direct sales as I come across fresh oleoresins, but it will take a while. If anyone reading this feels compelled to contribute financially to this project, any assistance would be deeply appreciated. I am resigned that I can’t do this alone.
I am starting this trip today! Israel, Jordan, Ethiopia then Kenya. Kenya will be the jewel. Each place offers rare and unique fragrant/medicinal materials. Some I will ship back to Canada to stock my Etsy shop. But I am going to try to fund this trip as much as I can by selling resins directly from the countries of origin. If possible in 1/2-1 Kilo packages. If you would like to stay abreast of opportunities as they arise, send me your email address to [email protected] and I will keep you updated.
In Ethiopia I am also meeting with Civet farmers, travelling to Jima which is a big center for the collection and export of Civet paste to the perfume world. I will be speaking with them about modernizing their farms and bringing them up to the ethical animal welfare standards we require. Wish me luck….. For more on this issue please see my posts-Ethical Civet, a glimpse from the mountaintop and Etical Civet, a view from the foothills.
Here is a partial list of the oleoresins I hope to ship to customers along the way. Let me know here in the comments section of any questions or requests, or email me at [email protected] and I can send you updates on events, resins and other treasures as they happen along the way.
B. Neglecta-(White and black varieties)
C. Holtziana-(Hagar-Opoponax) Kenya
C. Giladensis-(Balm of Gilead/Mecca)
Red Sea Operculum-Onycha
Also some unique ethnic bakhours and incense mixes as I come across them such as Bakhour al Aroosa, the rare and breathtakingly beautiful Somali wedding incense and Uunsi, the traditional Somali “Amber”, Ethiopian Bakbooka incense blends etc.
Essential oils of some of the above oleoresins, locally distilled in mid-size quantities via DHL. (Local post will often not ship volatiles)
If you feel inspired to contribute financially to support and facilitate this project with the Samburu women, please send payment to my PayPal account at dnr[email protected]. You do not need a PayPal account to do this. My gratitude is yours in advance.
My own network is not the most extensive, SO PLEASE SHARE THIS WIDELY!!
With the highest hopes