Orantes Moore, Gleaner Writer
PORT MARIA, St Mary:
DURING THE past 12 months, there has been much talk of how Brand Jamaica should be exploited to enable the country and its inhabitants to take full advantage of their most popular and profitable customs.
The collaboration between the Bureau of Women's Affairs (BWA) and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), which aims to raise awareness of the traditional fine art of hardanga embroidery, is an excellent example of how Brand Jamaica could be developed.
Hardanga is similar to but more intricate than crochet and entails drawing out threads to create lace-like patterns.
Over the last 30 years, Richmond in St Mary has established itself as the hardanga capital of the Caribbean - and quite possibly the world - but the practice is rapidly becoming an extinct art form.
To help reverse this trend, the BWA and JSIF have developed a plan to support the Jamaica Hardanga Heritage Trust (JHHT) and help the organisation develop more products, increase sales, and reach new customers.
The project was launched in Highgate, St Mary, earlier this month as part of World Rural Women's Day with an exhibition showcasing the very best of Jamaica hardanga - a premium and high-quality product the parish's women have produced for many decades.
Guest speakers included Mayor of Port Maria Levan Freeman; President of the St Mary Chamber of Commerce Rose Bryan; and JSIF Project Manager Stephannie Hutchinson-Ffrench, who said that her organisation had contributed close to $5 million to support the JHHT's objectives.
Hutchinson-French said: "Recently, it has made the news that the arts and craft sector in Jamaica is in rapid decline in terms of securing its place as a supplier of authentic Jamaican souvenir items produced in Jamaica by Jamaicans and sold locally to tourists and even exported to overseas destinations in order to play a part in improving the country's foreign-exchange earnings.
"With this revelation, it is commendable that the Jamaica Hardanga Trust is preserving the hardanga art form."
The JHHT was the brainchild of Inez Barrett, a retired teacher who the BWA hired in 1981 to teach five young women the art of hardanga.
JHHT president, Norma Nugent, said the project was hugely successful and became a major source of income for dozens of women who went on to learn the craft.
She told The Gleaner: "The Bureau of Women's Affairs was looking for a programme to help train elders and youths. They identified Mrs Barrett, who had this skill, and recruited her to train five women.
"From there, the Human Employment and Resource Training Agency (HEART Trust) came on-board and trained another 43. Some have migrated and moved on to things like teaching and nursing, but we are still keeping hardanga alive."
Nugent, who became the group's president in 2002, said it is essential that the art form be taught to the younger generation.
She explained: "It's important that we try to maintain and keep this tradition going because it's almost a dying craft, but we want to keep it alive and well - especially in St Mary - and take it to the high-end market.
"I won't tell you my age [laughs], but we are very old and want to pass on this tradition to younger people."
Nugent also emphasised that the craft could be used to generate income, which is particularly beneficial in times of austerity.
She said: "For me, hardanga is very important because it was instrumental in helping me school my seven children who have gone on to work in teaching, the correctional services, and the hotel industry.
"Once you put your mind to it, hardanga can help you make a decent living and support your family."