Kunainama, the online platform selling Rupununi craft items

By Alva Solomon

During the first quarter of 2021, some 240 students from villages within the South Rupununi were enrolled in traditional knowledge classes. The classes focused on the youths participating in activities which would revive and sharpen their knowledge of traditional skills, as well as their culture.
But while the youths showcased their skills by creating many pieces of craft, there was need for a market for their products. This led to the creation of the Kunainama, an online platform found on social media site Instagram, where the craft is sold. And the move, which was created by Maya de Freitas, a member of South Rupununi Conservation Society (SRCS), has seen a steady market of the products, the profits of which go directly back to the villages where they are made.
De Freitas told Guyana Times that the word “Kunainama” means Beautiful in the Wapichana language. “Kunainama is a dedicated platform from where (craft items) can we advertised and purchased online. At the moment, we are selling these crafts at no profit, which means that all profits go to the crafter,” she said.

Maya DeFreitas (right) of the South Rupununi Conservation Society and an official of the US Embassy during a Craft Day event there last December

How it started
Recounting the start of the project, she said that, for a long time, communities in the South Rupununi have seen their youths losing interest in their culture and knowledge of traditional skills.
At the beginning of 2021, the SRCS collaborated with village councils of eight villages: Aishalton, Maruranau, Shea, Sawariwau, Katoonarib, Sand Creek, Shulinab, and Kumu to start traditional knowledge classes.
At the time, each village selected three skills that they wanted to be taught to the youths. They also selected three resource persons to teach the skills. Following meetings, the villages chose basket weaving, cotton spinning, arrow making, leather craft, as well as teaching of the Wapishana and Macushi language, leather crafting.
Initially, the lessons were taught only once a week in very small groups, and classes had to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocol, de Freitas said. By March that year, a total of 240 students in 8 communities were participating in the Traditional Knowledge Classes.
She said the students were learning how to weave baskets, sifters and miniature matapees from local materials. Wood crafting also became part of the classes, she noted, and students learnt about different types of wood and how to use these resources sustainably.

Craft groups
The following month, the public’s interest in the craft grew after postings of the craft items were made on social media. As such, the SRCS made plans to create craft groups in the villages so craft items can be made in a group, and the children may be able to profit from their crafts.

Several hand-crafted items which were created by the youths of South Rupununi

In May that year, the conservation group received funding from Cultural Survival, a global non-governmental organization which advocates for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and supports Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures and political resilience. This allowed the Traditional Knowledge Classes to continue.
In July 2021, de Freitas said, demand for the craft items climbed rapidly. As such, the business entity Baby Cave reached out to the SRCS and offered to provide a space in their store to help sell the craft items. “All the money made from selling the crafts went directly back to the persons who made them, the children. Babe Cave took the responsibility of sourcing funding for space,” de Freitas said.
In June 2022, Babe Cave informed the SRCS that it ran out of funding for the space at its location, and since all profits went to the crafters, the SRCS had no available funding to continue the partnership with Babe Cave.
This led to the creation of Kunainama, which continues to thrive online as well as through marketing with several local business entities and groups. Craft items have been sold at several pop-up events, including one organized by the local group Upmarket, as well as at a craft day which was hosted by the United States Embassy last December.
De Freitas has said she is looking out for another order soon as she continues to market the craft items online. She said the goal is to eventually create a sustainable business model. “Where we are able to earn profit enough to have the resources to be able to continue to buy and sell crafts with ease,” she added.
In the meantime, the SRCS continues to facilitate weekly classes in communities where community members teach groups of children Traditional skills in a formal setting.