YAOUNDE– In an unassuming building in Bafoussam, chief town of Cameroon’s West Region, Therese Yommo carefully decorates a fabric with patterns.
The 64-year-old is a specialist in the fabrication of Ndop, a remarkable Cameroonian cloth that embodies fashion, heritage, and national pride.Growing up, Yommo didn’t think she would amount to much.
She traditionally spent her days doing household chores – collecting water from the borehole, making meals, cleaning, and looking after younger siblings.
But that changed when her mother taught her how to embroider Ndop fabric.
“We didn’t have much. (But today) I take care of my children and grandchildren and send them to school. I also take care of myself (thanks to Ndop),” said the widower and mother of six.In Cameroon, crafts such as sewing, quilting, embroidery, and knitting have always been an outlet for women to utilize their creativity.
Ndop fabric was originally made by women and was an important symbol of social status and cultural heritage but today – in a different way – it is enhancing the lives of women.
The traditional textile is helping to tackle poverty and empower women in the garment manufacturing industry by creating an ecosystem of hundreds of self-employed female micro-entrepreneurs.
Yommo said she’s already trained over 40 women in the business and fabrication of Ndop fabric.When Xinhua visited Yommo’s shop called Magni Yom’s Shopping, two women sat demurely with a fabric unrolled on their laps, practicing their newly-acquired embroidery skills.
One of them was Sylvie Mebeyi.
“Ndop is fashionable here, everybody wears it. That’s why I was interested (to learn about the profession),” said the 54-year-old mother of three.
Mebeyi used to run a small cafe business but as she aged, she could no longer get up every morning at 4:00 to prepare and sell until the opportunity to learn about Ndop came.
“I wanted to learn a trade that I can teach my children and grandchildren,” she said, adding that even after two years of learning she is still a novice because the production process is labor-intensive, involving several stages that sometimes run up to six months.
But such a long period of production is worthwhile, given the durability and traditional significance of the fabric, said 58-year-old Helen Youte who was practicing with Mebeyi.
Youte switched from her restaurant business to Ndop fabric. With just three years of practice, she is already earning a living.
“My children eat. I have sent them to school and I take care of my small needs. It has changed my life,” said the mother of six.
In Baham, about 20 km away from Bafoussam, 48-year-old Philippe Guy Kammogne has made it a point of duty to empower women through Ndop fabric.
His father, Simo Kamwa, now 116 years old, is a respected Ndop producer: he trained all his 94 children on how to embroider Ndop and now his son, Kammogne, has trained over 80 women, including his wife.
“We have trained women not to always wait for men to provide daily bread,” said Kammogne.
When Xinhua visited his modest workshop in the Lagweu neighborhood of Baham, he was busy training his wife, Flore Amedite Kammogne.
“If I am the only one providing for my family and if tomorrow I am not there, she will suffer. But if I teach her, she could make that a profession which can help her take care of herself and children even in my absence,” Kammogne said.
“The future is bright for all women who have the courage to fabricate Ndop,” added his wife.
Used in traditional ceremonies, weddings, and funerals, the demand for Ndop is increasing, said Rostanie Djifack who sells the fabric at Marche B in Bafoussam.
“We can make a lot of things out of Ndop fabric including caps, shoes, bracelets, and so on,” said the 20-year-old who said selling Ndop fabric has improved her standard of living.
“At first young people were not interested in the fabric, but today lots of young people buy.
“An item of Ndop can cost up to about 150 US dollars depending on the size, design, and quality.
Since 2020, Ndop has been classified as a Cameroonian national heritage by the Ministry of Arts and Culture.
A local association called Save Ndop wants the traditional textile to be added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. – Xinhua