“Tuareg Jewelry makes it possible for the artisans and their families in my community to prosper. Our whole community has thrived. We are able to make a fair living while producing our cultural craft, and all of the kids now go to school.”
For 25 generations, Elhadji Mohamed Koumama’s family has handcrafted silver jewelry and traditional leather bags in and around Agadez, Niger. “Jewelry has always been a part of my life,” explains Elhadji. Born into Tuareg nomadic tribe, indigenous to the Sahara desert, Elhadji was a nomad until he was ten. He is the first in his family of 13 children to attend school. He carries on his family high craft Tuareg Jewelry pieces. Tuareg Jewelry are known for its combination of combines 99.99% pure fine silver, ebony and/or semi precious stones. Each piece is hand-crafted using traditional technique and motifs. Today, Elhadji’s company, Tuareg Jewelry, employs 35 silversmiths and hosts many apprentices. Many more people in the community contribute leather cord, as well as polishing and beading services. All in all, Elhadji estimates that Tuareg supports over 200 people in the community. Designs include triangles, which signify luck and circles which signify the sun. The cross of Agadez is not only the symbol of the town, but also the symbol of love—such a cross can be found in many of Elhadji’s pieces.
All jewelry is made of the purest silver, which comes from Nigeria and Europe. Ebony wood and semi-precious stones are bought in local markets or obtained throughout Africa, and it takes three days to make one ebony bracelet.
The most beautiful part of the job, Elhadji says, is giving people work that celebrates culture and craft. Looking to the future, Elhadji’s goals for Tuareg Jewelry include hiring 25 more artists this year. “Many people want and need work,” Elhadji says. Eventually, his hope is that income from Tuareg Jewelry will help to build a much-needed school at the edge of Agadez.
“Our art is a blessing,” Elhadji says, “for it gives us both income and pride.”