Michel wrote:So what are the facts?
That is THE
question. I posses only some of the facts, and will try to share them as this discussion develops.
Michel wrote:In Mali I spoke djembe carvers who hardly find right trees close to Bamako anymore.
I don’t have firsthand experience in Mali, but I’ve heard the same thing. Malians are coming all the way into Guinea to harvest wood for djembes, and to buy finished djembes as well. Mali is a dryer country overall than Guinea, and therefore [parts of] Guinea offer a better environment for forest growth.
But, hardwood trees suitable for djembes cannot be found in and around Conakry either. As a matter of fact, you need to go to Kindia, which is 155 km from Conakry, before you begin finding significant hardwood tree forests, and so much of the land in between has been clear cut and left barren. It is an ugly sight. This deforestation is claimed to be from past harvesting for timber exports and coal production. Chinese timber companies were particularly aggressive in their harvesting, and were racing to move as much wood out of here as possible, before Guinea got wise and banned harvesting for timber. I saw where they were loading de-limbed trees onto barges, which means there was no value-adding going on and therefore very little benefit going to the Guinean workforce. This is how the valuable Teak wood forests were obliterated, and I have been told that they left not a single mature tree standing from Conakry to Kindia. It is a beautiful wood by the way (I once saw a teak board years ago).
Michel wrote:And who knows for sure that the making of djembe's is like sawdust?
Unfortunately there seems to be no statistics available for global djembe production and exports/sales, so the only way to gauge is intuitively. Consider the overwhelming amount of paper the western world uses daily and just throws away. The fast food industry alone is responsible for so much paper waste, thanks to our addiction to fast food. And how many millions of feet of toilet paper get flushed every day? Now there’s a statistic I’d be interested in knowing. Are we ready to give up toilet paper and clean ourselves with our hand, like they do here in Guinea? Not that Guineans are not contributing to deforestation, because coal production for their cooking fires has had a major impact. You know it when you see completely bare hills still smoking from the coal producers’ activities. But this is a symptom of poverty. Also, if you drive around Conakry you will see furniture production and sales going on EVERYWHERE, and in comparison there are just a handful of djembe making shops.
So, is it just sawdust? Maybe, but I do believe that sawdust counts as well, and that we have the same responsibility to the environment as any other industry. As a matter of fact, I’ve had several run-ins with the landlord of our workshop space over my insistence on saving and composting all of the wood chips we produce. He’s even threatened to boot us for it, and the Guineans think I’m a little crazy for keeping this “trash”, but if you visit our shop you will see bags of it stacked up high in a corner of the shop. A little “sawdust” adds up over time.
Michel wrote:Isn't it only justifying your hobby?
It might have started out as my hobby many years ago, but it has since become much more than that. I consider it an art, and one which is connected to a deep and moving tradition. The djembe is an incredibly powerful instrument, which I believe is the reason that so many people are taking it up. The sound of it alters paths, as it did mine in a big way.
Another aspect of it has pretty much taken over my life, and that is the responsibility which has been put on me since I began living and working in Guinea in 2003. I now represent about thirty African artists and their families, all of who count on me to keep them working, and when we are not working they all suffer. I know most of their families personally, and so I am witness to the problems they encounter. It always weighs on me.
For these reasons I consider it more than a hobby.
Michel wrote:Containers full of djembe's are transported to Asia, Europe, US. Lots of them end up as coffee tables.
The idea of a djembe ending up as coffee table doesn’t really sit well with me, but neither does the argument that we should not make djembes from wood because they can end up as coffee tables. If that is the case, then why are we not protesting coffee tables ending up as coffee tables? Aren’t they made of wood as well? It stands to reason that a djembe ending up as a coffee table means that one less coffee table will be needed, and therefore it represents zero loss.
I realize that this is a silly argument, but I just wanted to point out that we are not scrutinizing other products made from wood as critically as we are djembes made from wood. Don't djembes deserve equal rights?
Michel wrote:In Amsterdam there is an over-subsidised music school with 120 fairly good African made djembe's which are used to teach small kids make music! I don't find it strange that it worries people.
It is a matter of opinion. Personally I feel that teaching music to children is one of the most important things that wood can be applied towards, and more important than producing the millions of tabloid newspapers which are just thrown away every day. How many kids will use those djembes over time, and how many lives might end up being changed for the better because of it?
Michel wrote:So what is Wula drum's policy towards sustainability?
We’re adamantly against having policies towards sustainability.
That was a joke, just in case anyone is thinking that I should lighten up. Our policy is stated here:
djembefeeling wrote:A serious subject, indeed. Environmentally, it's crayz what we are doing, all the deforestation and the long distance flights. I think in Guinea the situation isn't any better than in Mali. You can see this by looking at the new shells from Guinea: there is hardly any without sapwood. Most people want lenke shells, because Famoudou once said this is the best wood for a djembe. Do you know places with old and big lenke trees in Guinea, Tom? I could't see any in Hamana when I have been there.
Guinea has diverse climates and environments, which change from region to region. Hamana is mostly dry savanna grasslands or scrub-like forest, and supports mostly only small scale farming.
Over the past several years tree harvesting for djembes has been taking place in Dabola. Dabola is the area which most of the carvers know well and where they have their contacts; and it is not too far from Conakry (relatively speaking). Some carvers have therefore been reluctant to seek new areas, and the fact that Dabola has been thinned out means that they end up taking younger trees with more sap wood. For that reason we don’t work in Dabola, and currently are going to more distant Kundara. Kundara offers many mature trees; trees which can produce several full size djembes each, and a lot of them are lengue. This is one of the reasons we've been seeing so many lengue drums over the past year.
As I said, I don’t know Mali personally, but, from all of the information I’ve gathered from others, Mali is in much worse shape than Guinea. Go to Google maps satellite image and take a look. In between Beyla, Macenta, and N’zerekore’ there are massive, mature forest lands. Guinea definitely has much more forestland than Mali, which is why we are seeing more and more Malian drum makers coming to Guinea for drums.
But you are correct in saying that it is crazy what we are doing to the environment. The closer you look at it the more disturbing it is. Americans in general are the absolute worst, as we are so accustomed to mass consumption and waste producing habits, and are addicted to convenience. But it looks as if the wake up call has begun, and that our lifestyles are going to be forced to change.
I know that us drum makers can plant and grow many more trees than we take, and at a small cost, so I believe that we can actually leave the planet in a better condition than before we came. More on this later.
djembefeeling wrote:But for me, it's no solution to buy Indonesian shells instead. They do not have a tradition of making djembes and I feel we should't take this income away from african carvers.
This is a separate but related issue, and one that I’d like to get into at a later time.
djembefeeling wrote:My dealer, the Conakry based David Mühlemann, does plant seeds of lenke and other woods for djembe on private property to compensate for logging.
David has set the example for everyone. He’s been here in Guinea making drums for something like twenty years or more, and has conducted his business with high integrity. He produces excellent quality, pays VERY well, and was one of the first, if not the first, djembe maker in Guinea to replant trees. Great legacy.
djembefeeling wrote:Even though it takes many, many years for them to become big trees, its the best you can do as long as the government in Guinea does not protect some forests in national parks, I think.
Actually, the government is protecting some forests. There are large national parks which are protected, as well as protected forest land, called ‘government land’, which are not to be touched. Also, I was stunned to see fields in Kindia with thousands upon thousands of Teak trees that the government had replanted; all in different stages of growth, and some as tall as twenty feet. I will take photos the next time I am there.
Very important steps have been taken by the Guinean government to protect forest lands over the past two years. All harvesting for timber has been completely banned and even harvesting for furniture production has been heavily curtailed; but the government recognizes the importance of African handicraft production, and has not banned harvesting for traditional instruments like the djembe. Still, the effect has been to make it more difficult to obtain wood for djembes, and the prices have therefore skyrocketed. They are also allowing coal production, which is a huge problem, but one which does not yet have a solution. So there is a change in progress, but it is just the beginning.
The two posts which I just responded to contain exactly the type of questions that I was hoping for, so thanks for the input.