GEORGE TOWN, Exuma – As part of its ‘Take back our souvenir industry’ policy, BAIC has trained about 1,000 artisans throughout the islands. Each year BAIC’s BahamArts Festival and the Ministry of Tourism’s Authentically Bahamian Show are held in Nassau.
Artisans utilize native ingredients to create bags, hats, mats, jewelry, tableware and other useful items.
Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) executive chairman Edison Key traveled to Exuma for the graduation of 30 Exumians in straw and coconut craft last weekend.
Mr Key was accompanied to Exuma by general manager Benjamin Rahming, assistant general manager Donnalee Bowe and a BAIC support team. They were met by Administrator Ivan Ferguson, Chief Councilor Teddy Clarke and local government officials.
Trainers for the courses were Eldina Miller in straw work and Howard Bevans in coconut craft. Mary Deveaux, president of Yuma Arts Association of handicrafters and artists encouraged participants to be creative.
“Tourists are always asking for Bahamian-made products because they are tired of the Chinese products with Bahamian labels on them,” she said.
Importing souvenirs for tourists who come here annoy Exuma artisans no end since better products are made here, said Ms Deveaux.
“That is especially so when you know the products were not made in the Bahamas and you see the labels that they was made in the Bahamas,” she said. “Sometime I feel like taking them off the shelves.
“The quality of our work is improving and this is what we encourage throughout the islands.”
There was when production of Bahamian straw, sisal, coconut, shell craft and other items was an industry, Mr Key recalled. Bahamian craft were exported to as far as Europe.
Many prominent persons received university education and live comfortable lifestyles as a result of income from Bahamian straw and souvenir craft, he said.
“Things had apparently become so good for us,” said Mr Key, “that it became easier for us to import souvenirs for the millions of tourists who come here.
“As a result a once lucrative industry, Bahamian souvenir production, has been allowed to almost die along the way. Well, folks, the tourist say they do not want that cheap imported stuff we have been passing off on them. They say they want authentic Bahamian-made memorabilia.”
It is estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year importing souvenirs for our tourists.
“What a big impact it would make if some of those millions of dollars were to start flowing directly into your pockets,” said Mr Key. “With quality as the watchword, we must support our own, give the tourists what they want, and earn a decent living so doing.
“Exuma products, not products from half way round the world, should be prominently displayed in our straw market downtown Nassau.”
BAIC is returning to Exuma shortly to continue courses in sisal craft and wood turning.
“We want to recreate an industry so that we can tap into the many millions of dollars we use to unnecessarily import souvenirs for our tourists,” he said.
He encouraged artisans to contact BAIC’s Business Services Division which offers free information to persons wanting to go into business.
Bahamian straw bags have become a fashion statement among women. (BIS photo by Gladstone Thurston)
Straw craft trainer Eldina Miller (centre) and some of her students at the Exuma graduation last weekend. (BIS photo by Gladstone Thurston)
BAIC executive chairman Edison Key encouraged Exuma artisans when he spoke during their graduation ceremony last weekend. (BIS photo by Gladstone Thurston)
A wide variety of items were on exhibit during the Exuma artisans graduation last weekend. (BIS photo by Gladstone Thurston)
Straw craft trainer Eldina Miller admires this head, created by one of her Exuma students. (BIS photo by Gladstone Thurston)
Exuma MP Anthony Moss admires a purse made by graduate Krivoy Smith. (BIS photo by Gladstone Thurston)
Exuma craft graduates perform during ceremony last weekend. (BIS photo by Gladstone Thurston)