My first interaction with the Pengo fan was about five months ago, I was visiting Mohammed and had never seen anything quite like it. From the cultural symbols on its wooden handle, to the colors of its straw, to the patterns of weaving. Asantewaa was beyond a fan, she was a work of art and I needed to know more about the wisdom that went into making her.
After months of procrastinating and tending to the day to day tasks of running a business, I finally made time to visit Asarima, one of the most skilled fan weavers in Accra. Unlike most weavers, Asarima is a woman, young, and weaves exceptionally fast.
How long have you been weaving and why did you chose this field?
I've been weaving for over 20 years now. My parents introduced me to the craft. As a toddler in Bolgatanga, I would watch them weave every day and naturally, I picked up weaving as well. I chose to weave fans because everyone weaves baskets and I think fans are a necessary accessory to have in this weather so there is always a demand for it.
Ok, so I'm assuming you brought all these materials Bolgatanga then?
Ironically, everything you see here is from Kumasi (Ashanti Region). A decade ago, we had to transport them from Bolga but today we can get all the materials from Kumasi. The Akuaba dolls are carved in Kumasi and the straws are grown there as well.
Can you please walk me through the steps of making this fan, I know I see you making it but it would help to learn it as well.
The first step is dying the straw into the colors you want. All the straws are naturally off-white. I boil the different colors I want and dye them for a few hours, then spread them out till they dry.
This sometimes takes all day so I generally dye the straws the day before I start weaving. This way, I can focus on weaving without worrying about having to dye more straws or not having the colors I need.
I always picture the kind of fans I want to create before I even start weaving and purchase the dyes I need so that on the day of weaving, I am certain I have all I need and can focus solely on weaving. I can make the fans in almost any colors you want, it is simply a matter of purchasing the dye you want and you have the colors you desire.
Ok, so can we make a fan with three of my favorite colors (pink, purple, and blue)?
Sure, you have to pay attention this time so I don't repeat myself though.
Ok, am fully focused!
Step 1: You take your Akuaba doll
Step 2: Select the colors you want from the straws dyed the day before
Step 3: Insert the strong off-white straws into the scalp of the dolls. We use the off-white ones first because they are stronger.
The colored ones become softer after boiling and drying so the straws that haven't been tampered with always goes first.
Now, we braid! Just as we would braid a baby doll's hair. LOL
How long is this process?
It really depends on the speed of the weaver. Most weavers are old, so they take a day to weave one fan. I weave really fast so I can finish this in 4 hours, and can make about 5 fans a day.
How promising would you say this industry is?
I think it’s pretty good. I take care of my children from weaving fans so it's not bad at all. I deliberately do not weave at home because I want people to see the process of making the fan.
People are always fascinated to see that the fan is actually made with my bare hands, not a machine. I think people really appreciate the fact that we put so much thought into creating a product as simple as a fan, my biggest satisfaction comes from seeing them admire the fan and feeling proud of owning one.
We carry Pengo Fans at Dziffa. We have some common colors in stock, you can also select colors you prefer to make a unique one just for you.
Happy Shopping :)
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