Bark cloth is the result of a perfect harmony between mankind and nature. Harvesting and preparing bark cloth is a tradition of the Baganda tribe, an exceptional art passed on through generations for more than 600 years.
Nowadays, only a few families still possess the knowledge that allows a simple bark to become one the masterpieces of the intangible heritage of humanity, as Unesco has recently defined it. Vincent is one of these « artists ». Member of the Ngonge clan, he learnt this know-how from his father who learnt in turn by his from his own ancestors.
The tree, a middle sized plant of the Ficus family, must be at least six years old before it can deliver its first usable bark, an ordinary grayish coloured bark to the inexperienced eye. For the craftsman it is ripe to become a cloth as large as 18 square feet (6m2), just as thin and strong as woven linen. Once retrieved of its bark the tree is at rest for six months before the next harvest.
The bark is folded and processed while it is still fresh, steamed and beaten with a wooden mallet by two or three men working side by side under a shed in the garden.
In 2013 an NGO in Uganda (East Africa) asked Po! Paris to create a development project involving a group of women on the outskirts of the capital Kampala. Mark Eden Schooley and John Felici created a new line of bags with using bark cloth instead of leather. The bark cloth is treated and painted in white or black in Kampala by the women, lined and sewn in their small workshop providing income to the community helping finance medication, schooling fees.
This is the first step Po! Paris treads out of Albania, from eastern Europe straight to eastern Africa. A long step, far away, bringing people and stories together.
(Photos by Mark Eden Schooley)