Ep.32 Legacy Lives On | Manakristo Designs

Afrika Design Podcast Ep. 32 Tsedaniya Delnessa from Ethiopia


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Tsedaniya Delnessa [EP 32]

[00:00:35] Adrian: Wonderful. So Tsedaniya, I hope I'm saying that a bit, at least accurately. Maybe throughout this conversation, my pronunciation will get better. Is there a meaning? Is there a reason behind your name?

[00:00:48] Tsedaniya Delnessa: I wouldn't say there was actually a reason behind my name. I'm the first born in my family. My dad named me and he's in his like late sixties now, and I actually reached out to him and saw the first time and I asked him, do you remember why you named me this way? And like, there was nothing, just crickets because it's supposed to be a biblical name.

[00:01:10] Naming in Ethiopia is very distinct than most of the world where I take my father's first name. So, Tsedaniya Delnessa, and it's supposed to be a place in Egypt where Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus during the persecution of Herod. And when they arrived in Egypt, they built an altar and they call it Tsedaniya Mariam. Manakristo, which is the business name is actually my baptismal name.

[00:01:36] In Ethiopia when you were born, girls are baptized at 80 days and boys at, 40 days. So, you received baptismal names, but they become very church names and they're literally only used when you go for church ceremonies and when you die. They never use your actually given name when you have a baptismal name.

[00:01:56] So, Manakristo basically means the food of Christ. And because I realized early on this baptismal name was gonna be useless, I decided to make it part of my business, basically.

[00:02:07] Adrian: Are you aware of a reason why it's 80 and 40 days girls and boys?

[00:02:12] Tsedaniya Delnessa: Not really. I think first seven days for boys is circumcision and then the umbilical cord falls off and all that. But I've never really asked why that was so. Yeah. Good. Mm-hmm. ? Good question. I'll have to ask somebody about that.

[00:02:25] Adrian: Nice. Good. Keep on digging some cultural insights. Definitely. Yeah. So what has your journey with culture been and how has that culture contributed to the way you view life and approach what you're doing?

[00:02:39] Tsedaniya Delnessa: As you know, I was saying earlier, I grew up in the Middle East and I moved there when I was like two or three years old. So, we grew up in a culture that was very different than ours. And my parents did well in some aspects, but they really felt terribly in terms of educating us about our background, our own history.

[00:02:59] Especially when you live so far away from home and you're not connected to your roots. So, in the Middle East we celebrated the holidays. Ramadan was, you know, very normal to us. My mom would make a feast every year during Ramadan. And, you know, my parents were like staunch Christians. So, but they accepted the culture that they, you know, that we lived in.

[00:03:19] And one of the things my mom was always adamant about being respectful, especially during Ramadan. No dressing in a certain way, no eating on the streets, you know, just to be respectful of the other culture. Late nineties we moved to Ethiopia and it was a culture shock because we moved now into a country where 99% of the people were dark-skinned, you know, just like us.

[00:03:43] And that was, let's just say it was a reckoning because you look around and everybody's just like you. You know, you'd be hard pressed to find white people and that did take me by surprise because I'd never lived in a place where black people were like the dominant race. So, over the years it did take a while to adjust to the culture, and holidays in Ethiopia are very significant.

[00:04:06] But I think because we grew up so isolated in the Middle East it was hard to create an identity because, you know, you, you feel kind of, you, you're drifting between being cultured in the Arab ways and then now you come to Ethiopia where everything is so much more open, more free. You're allowed to dress whichever way you want, talk whichever way you want.

[00:04:27] But we never really understood those things. So, it took a really long time for me to get to a place where my culture, my identity became my own. And I think it wasn't until just a few years ago when I started researching more into, you know, African history and things like that because now I've got kids of my own and, you know, I'm glad that we are living in Kenya as well because you know, I'm married to a Kenyan, I come from Ethiopia, so there was a mix of cultures and I just wanted to make sure that wherever they went in the world, they would know where they come from and they have access both to the Ethiopian side and the Kenyan side.

[00:05:04] So, it's just in the few last years that I started looking more into, you know, where did Ethiopia come from? You know, you hear all these legends from the Bible of King Solomon and Queen Sheba and all that. You wanna make sure you understand what's history and what's legend. So, it took a while. And eventually I got to a point where, you know, I started my own business. You know, you're looking into art and culture within Kenya as well, and sometimes it becomes diluted. So, now you have to create your own identity in terms of your work, your family, your own culture and heritage. There was a lot of reading involved, a lot of digesting and a lot of separating of what I thought was a myth that you couldn't validate or there was no evidence for.

[00:05:45] And I think I've been lucky in so many ways because Ethiopian history, there's a lot of oral history, but there's also a lot of written history. So, that helps you dig down way deep to understand where we as a people come from and we go back way. I mean, forget about the Bible, but you know, second and third century is where the history starts.

[00:06:07] And you're proud of that and you can see the progression of the people from there into who, who I am today basically.

[00:06:14] Adrian: I found it really interesting what you said in terms of oral history, but also what is real history and what is legend. Now it's often said that history is written by the victors. What is the difference in importance between legend and and history? And how do we know wh which parts are legend and which are history? And how do we take them? How should we receive them? Should we approach them differently?

[00:06:39] Tsedaniya Delnessa: You know, legends are generally like great, incredible stories of bravery and being smart and outwitting someone else or whatever. In most, you know, most places and most times, within Ethiopian history, there's a manuscript called the Kabernekest. It's a book basically that was written from the time that Ethiopia accepted Christianity in second, third century, you know, and there's a lot that's written there. And it's not something that's translated, so it becomes very easy for someone to tell you what's in it without you really ever seeing what's in it.

[00:07:15] I think the most iconic story is Queen Sheba went to you know, King Solomon. And the lineage of Ethiopian Kings actually starts from that time because Sheba went came back, she was pregnant, she had his baby, so that became King Menelik, the first. And so, the lineage of the kings and queens of Ethiopia starts then.

[00:07:38] But when you dig deep down inside, you really do not find as much evidence. It could be just one mention in a library in Alexandria, for instance, in Egypt. So, there isn't so much in terms of factual evidence that it happened. The Bible tells you it happened, but it doesn't really tell you what exactly this queen came from.

[00:07:58] And I mean, we've built an entire empire in Ethiopia based on one king from Israel, basically. And as a one of the historic Christian countries in the world who accepted Christianity very early on. There's a lot that we believe in without really digging deeper, to find the truth in it, you know?

[00:08:17] So, I've always struggled with the legend and the myths are told to us, especially as I grew older, you know, you do question a lot more than when you are younger. You know, when you are younger, like, oh yeah, sure, you know, these are cute stories to tell my kids and whatever. So in my view, I feel like at least coming from where I come from, the legends are okay, but sometimes they're hyped up so much that the line between what was really real and what actually happened in real life is very blurred.

[00:08:47] And it's hard having conversations with people when they really do believe and accept everything that's written. And especially at the time when... so I speak Amharic, which is a local language in Ethiopia, but I don't need to write it. And finding tangible you know, written documents about the history of Ethiopia is really hard.

[00:09:07] So, you know, I've had conversations with taxi drivers when I go to Ethiopia, I've had conversations with priests and monks and whatever, just to have an idea of what they think about and a lot of times they do not question anything they've been told. So you're like, okay, you know, these are cute stories, but I wish I knew the truth.

[00:09:25] So, legends are great, but I would love to have this one massive book that tells you exactly and, you know, like first ad, this is what happened and this is how we got to 2023 now, and in terms of Ethiopian history, but I don't think I'm gonna be that lucky.

[00:09:40] Adrian: Yeah, that's a really, really good point. So, going back into your journey into culture and African culture how did that progress? What were some real milestones for you in terms of discoveries?

[00:09:55] Tsedaniya Delnessa: So, the culture part I think came a little later, just in the last few years. So when I lived in Addis, it was in a place called Piazza and it was the capital basically. And that's where the merchants from Italy and Greece and, you know, Indians all congregated at. And it was one tiny lane called Mahatma Gandhi Lane, basically.

[00:10:18] The house was built way back in like twenties and 30. and, back in the early two thousands we decided to renovate the house. And I remember I was in school at that time, but I would go back home after classes to help my mom out. And I think that's the first time that it struck me that I lived in a mud house.

[00:10:38] The walls are two feet thick and I've never seen anything like it, you know. So, there's a lot of stigma of people that live in mud houses because these are huts and whatever, but this was in the heart of the capital. And the floors were these Italian glazed tiles that were hand painted and brought from Italy way back when the house was built.

[00:10:58] And the bottom half of the of the house was these cedarwood lining, you know, and I didn't really care much in terms of you know, there's a lot of history here or whatever, but I started to peel off a lot of the graying old... this eggshell paint and you know, you start smelling the cedar wood coming through.

[00:11:22] And even back then I was aware that this is not wood you find anywhere just like that because I've never smelled it anywhere else. So, it took quite a while, digging through all that muck and bringing out, you know, the grains of the wood and everything. And I think that was literally the first time where I was like, oh my God, there is history in this place.

[00:11:42] I don't know how to get it, but there is history in this place. So, that stuck around with me for a really long time and I mean, Ethiopia is blessed with a lot of ancient buildings. Only problem is preserving them was always a nightmare. There wasn't as much attention or care given to these old structures and like the first firehouse, which was just a few kilometers away from my house had burned down at some point because it was just wood and mud, you know?

[00:12:12] I ended up joining this foundation that was run by Haile Selassie's great-granddaughter, and it was basically picking one house a year and working on, renovating it back to its old glory. And, you know, you walk into these places and you, you kind of understand that you're walking in the footsteps of people from a hundred years ago, literally, you know?

[00:12:36] And as time goes on, you understand instinctively that you'll never do this again. You know, you're not gonna be in this space ever again. So, take it in now. So the awe you feel in these places of three, four, you know, stories up, all made of wood and just mud. So it takes away this thing of like, you know, Ethiopia is poor and whatever, and we live in mud houses and all that stuff, but you do feel the grandeur of these things.

[00:13:04] So I worked in the restoration work back then for a while. Eventually the organization ran out of funding and it closed down, but it opened up my eyes to the history that we had, but I was way too young. I was like just turning what, 20 at that point. So I wasn't mature enough to understand the significance of what was happening at that point.

[00:13:25] So it was just in the last year, literally when I was just going back on my own discovery of how I got to this place when I started thinking of that time. And you appreciate it more now, more than you did then because, you know, you can trace the footsteps of, you know, we came from the 18 hundreds of living in huts made of, you know, grass roofs and whatever into, you know, this state and now we're living, you know, in Nairobi and things like that.

[00:13:53] So, I ended up during that time collecting a lot of traditional things. And I bought them simply because they were cheap at that point, you know? So, if you've seen, I don't know if you're aware of the the royalty back in Ethiopia and the nobility, especially those that were more traditional than those that lived in the capital would wear a lot of ornate necklaces and earrings and bangles and things like that.

[00:14:19] But it was never worn in any other ceremony. So, I think once the royal family was deposed of, and a lot of the nobility fled or they went underground, some of these things just ended up being dumped in the marketplace and anybody could buy it. So I would like... once I started working, had a part-time job, and I would just buy a couple of things and my mom was always very unhappy and she'd be like, you're just collecting iron, basically, you know? And I didn't know if it was iron or like, you know, nickel or brass or silver, but it just looked beautiful, you know? So, I just kept on buying those things. When I moved to Nairobi, I left that back in Ethiopia because again, I wasn't aware of its significance.

[00:15:02] And I think when I was here and I saw more people dressed in the local culture better than we locals do, you know, your brain goes in a different way. You know, I'm like I've got all these things in Ethiopia just sitting there. I never wear it. But here is someone else appreciating it more than I do, you know.

[00:15:23] And you kind of go like, that's, that's not right. I should be the one promoting these things, but I'm not doing that. So, on one trip to Addis I started hunting for these artifacts or whatever, and it ends up that somebody had thrown it to the side of the house where we just keep the junk or whatever, and it took weeks of unearthing from piles of dirt.

[00:15:49] And that was my aha moment, you know. So, I know a lot of people work on you know, in terms of the music, the art or whatever, but I decided I was gonna work more on the jewelry. So, I actually started like training and identifying where these pieces come from. And through the process of doing that, I realized that it wasn't necessarily authentically Ethiopian and that we had somehow mingled with, you know, with India and China, and Persia. And by default we had coins that were exchanged from Africa all the way, you know, out to Asia, from Asia back to Africa, you know, and like now you're interested, now you wanna dig deeper, you know? And I think that's where my journey began.

[00:16:35] So, when I started Manakristo, I was just doing picture frames because I love doing things with my hands. I can't draw, I can't paint, so I might as well do something with my hands. And I think once that process started, now I wanted to showcase the things I've collected over the years, but not just show that, but also tell the story of you know, Africa was not isolated.

[00:16:59] Back in second century, third century, continuing up to now the narratives that were told of a backward continent, a continent of darkness with nothing in it, was completely untrue. We were minting gold coins that were found all the way out in India and China, and there were things that were being transported back to, you know, Ethiopia and the east coast.

[00:17:20] So, those stories fascinated me and that's basically what has gotten me here and, you know, retelling your own African stories through jewelry basically.

[00:17:31] Adrian: Brilliant. Thank you. I want to hear more about Manakristo designs, but also first maybe I saw that blog post that you had about, uh, your grandmother's furniture collection. Maybe you can tell me. Mm-hmm. , what's the significance to you of your grandmother's furniture collection? What's the impact it's had on you?

[00:17:50] Tsedaniya Delnessa: When we first arrived to Ethiopia, first day from the airport, we were dropped off at our house to drop off our luggage. And we were supposed to have lunch with my grandparents. I'd never met them before. I'd never talked to them before that. So, we get to their house and it's another mud house, you know, but it was so stately and everything.

[00:18:10] And my grandfather was standing outside pruning his coffee trees cuz he used to be a coffee farmer. When you walked inside, it was these cabinets made of wood, but you know, covered in formaica and everything. And I remember thinking, wow, that looks old. You know, and inside were things the cutlery and, you know, the dishes and the plates and whatever that she had actually collected over the last 30 years, 40 years.

[00:18:38] That year they were celebrating the 50th anniversary which I thought was like insane, you know? And they have this furniture and you know, you just stand there and go, like I haven't seen this anywhere else. You know? I just remember thinking, and maybe this is not the most pleasant thing to say. One day I hope to inherit this, you know, because it looks so cool. You know, and it just reminded me of how many things other people have in their homes. And because our family's one of the older ones living in Addis, and we would go to uncles and, you know, great uncles homes and everything, and the furniture would follow kind of the same kind of pattern.

[00:19:18] It had these spindle legs that were pretty thin, raised off the ground, you know, glass fronts and all that, and all the good China is kept there. All right? So, visually it was like, wow, you know, because at home we didn't have anything. We just arrived, you know? So it was an empty house, basically. But I remember being awed by the things that would come out because there was a special China you ate from when you had guests and you had all the junk that the rest of us would eat from on an everyday basis.

[00:19:48] And I remember wanting to collect the stories of these things. Where did it come from? How'd you get it here? How long have you had it? But we also lived in a culture of kids shouldn't be seen and not heard. So, there was never really a chance to like ask my grandparents where they got it from, what the stories were.

[00:20:06] I think just trying to close my eyes and think back of that time, you know, it was simpler times. It was when people didn't fill their houses with a lot of junk and they had a few really good things, you know? And if it broke, oh wow, You know, it's a crisis because everything was so well taken care of.

[00:20:26] And I think I took a lot of that spirit because nowadays something breaks, you just throw it, run to the store, replace that one. Now you have a full set or whatever, you know, you have a scratch on your cabinet or something. You can bring your fundi to work on it or whatever. But back then, they would fix it themselves because skills like this didn't exist.

[00:20:46] And over time the styles also changed but you don't really realize that it's changed until much later and it just shows you that what we had when we had it was not really well appreciated until it was completely lost.

[00:21:01] Adrian: Oh. First of all, I wanna say that just as you were talking about that it really, your descriptions and the way you talk about these things really puts me in the scene and really gets you to feel those spaces. And I'm also maybe imagining because I have gotten to go to Addis and experience some Ethiopian architecture and I was really blown away by what I saw as well of, of the culture.

[00:21:29] And so thank you for storytelling so beautifully. Welcome. And, the other thing is that I also grew up, I think with an appreciation from my grandparents who brought me up with an appreciation of objects that should last and even inheriting my grandfather's camera from the fifties, from my mother's childhood as well.

[00:21:54] It's really good for us to learn from our grandparents and also pass that knowledge onto the next generations. Oh, yeah. And maybe you can tell us about what is Manakristo designs then?

[00:22:07] Tsedaniya Delnessa: So, Manakristo design started as an idea in the beginning. I think at heart, I've always been a collector of junk or what people consider junk, you know? I had a friend who was in publishing back in 2014 and she had just moved to Kenya from China or Singapore, I believe. And she had a term, she would say, let's go loafing around. And all we did was just like drive around Nairobi looking for these quaint places to visit, and we would drive by places like where Village Market is or whatever because I live on the Karen side, so I really never go out on the other side.

[00:22:48] In Nairobi, as you know, everybody's quite segregated. You live in one area, you never travel to the other. So, we would drive out to Muthaiga and everything, and I remember there was a house that was being demolished and they were selling off the window frames, wooden window frames.

[00:23:03] And I think coming from where I come from and having done this renovation restoration work, you immediately recognize this thing is not just from last year. This is from 50, 60, 100 years ago. And I think when you understand the history of Nairobi and some of its suburbs, you instinctively understand this has value, at least to me maybe not to someone else. So, I went and bought like a bunch of window frames, cedarwood, for absolutely no reason. I had no idea what I was gonna do with it. I wasn't gonna build a house, you know. There really was no plan for it. So, I would just bring it and I would just store it in the house here.

[00:23:41] Over time, that collection grew to be a little absurd because I wasn't a fundi, I wasn't a carpenter. Back in Ethiopia, my work was more limited and, you know, it was easy to restore a home because there's a blueprint to it. So, over time I just sat there going like, okay, I've got all these beautiful things. What do I do with them?

[00:24:03] Back in 2011, I had my son and we wanted to take family pictures. And I looked around really hard to find nice wooden frames. And there was literally none. I couldn't find any place that was making frames. A few years after that, 2016, I decided, you know what, I love making things with my hand.

[00:24:22] I love like the physical labor of creating things. And I think when you're not gifted artistically, you compensate in other ways where you can. I decided, Hey, you know what? I'm gonna start a workshop. I have no idea what I'm gonna do, but I'll start with picture frames. And over time, the same routine I had of going out there and collecting these broken pieces of wood or whatever, I would just bring that home.

[00:24:48] It got to a point where my husband was getting frustrated because every time we drove and we saw a pile of wood thrown around, I'm like, can you stop? Can you stop? Like, I, I need to pick that up, you know? And he started saying like, you know, you just like the Maasai who collect cows. You collecting wood all over the place and it's meaningless.

[00:25:05] What are you gonna do with it? But that's when the idea was born. I was never a fan of new wood, you know, I was never a fan of, oh, let's chop down a tree so I can make something pretty with it. And I always felt that the older things always had character, you know, like you were saying with your grandparents' camera.

[00:25:22] It doesn't matter what kind of cameras they bring out today, the quality's never gonna be the same. The print is never gonna be the same, you know? So, that always fascinated me. And that's when I started building the conservation and the eco-friendly products into it. I have all these pieces of wood and it was enough to actually be sustainable enough.

[00:25:43] Cuz sometimes if you don't have enough raw materials, start a business, it becomes pointless. But you know, Nairobi also started to change. And when they were developing Ngong road for instance, they chopped down thousands of trees. And I realized, you know what? There's an opportunity here. I don't wanna go cut down a tree to make a table for myself, a chair, a bed or whatever, but these trees were cut down for a purpose anyway.

[00:26:11] So, now I can me make use of them, you know? So, from there it basically morphed into just approaching different people and saying, Hey, I buy wood, but I need to know the reason why you chopped it, you know. Driving around, I remember we were on our way to Makueni County and there was a flood and there was a dozen or so acacia trees that had fallen down and people were just gonna chop a firewood.

[00:26:38] So I was like, do you mind if I take it? And they're like, sure, as long as I pay. So, that became a way of working for me, you know, and I enjoy the challenge of finding the most exotic woods in the most random of places. And, you know, that's basically how Manakristo started. But over time, you also realize you have to have some business sense.

[00:26:59] You can't make a living out of just making picture frames or whatever from acclaimed wood. There had to be something that was bigger than that. And that's when I wanted to tie in the idea of the history that we have. And a lot of times it ended up being what I had collected in Ethiopia. But I've traveled to West Africa as well, and within Kenya just collecting the Maasai necklaces, not necessarily the ones that are now from the Maasai market, which are very contemporary, but when you go into the Samburu tribe or you know, the Turkana, whatever the things they do is very different when they're doing it for themselves and not for the mass market. You know?

[00:27:38] So, for my journeys there, I'll just pick up a few things. And again, there's never an intention of this is what I'm gonna do with it. You know, you just instinctively understand this is different. I wanna have it, I wanna keep it, I'll figure out what to do with it at some point in the future. You know, just like my jewelry collection from 2001, 2002, now it makes more sense.

[00:28:02] So I just feel like there was a lot of things that happened, and if you look at them separately, they make no sense. But when you put together the different, you know, puzzle pieces, there's a great image that emerges and I'm learning to trust the process more because a lot of times people want you to make sense, you know.

[00:28:23] When you're collecting fabrics from all over the world, when you're collecting knickknacks from all over the world and you have a storage unit that's so huge and you're like, I know there's a time that's coming when this will make sense. It's not making sense to me now either. I joined up now with this program called the Catapult with Women Work Network and they... again, I'm very new in business.

[00:28:45] I have been in this since 2017, but in terms of getting out there and making, you know, linkages and connections, I've been pretty slow because I've not wanted to rush the process and I've also wanted to teach myself as much as possible now before you get on this national stage or whatever, and declare hello world. So, I've been working with this Catapult program, which helps you launch a product. So, now we're trying to do the market product fit and everything and I'm just liking that, you know, what's emerging out of that because I'm able to be more deliberate with what I'm doing.

[00:29:21] And as slow as it is, it's also meaningful because I think one of the craziest things is, you know, you can just go to whatever market and buy whatever you want, whenever you want, but some of the older things need for you to be more deliberate, you know? So, just matching up, oh, there's this necklace. There's a background, there's a frame. It's gonna go in and you want it to be conservation quality and everything, cuz you do want it to go into an art galleries for other people to see it. And at the same time, connecting it to a story of, here's a coin that came from Persia is from 17 hundreds. We don't know how it got to Ethiopia, but the theory is that we were trading, you know, doing this and that or whatever.

[00:30:06] And this is the idea, you know, so you do tell people whatever you're buying from Manakristo, this is the story behind it. And we've taken time to dig into that story and, you know, maintain the culture and heritage and connect Africa with the rest of the world in a contemporary way, basically.

[00:30:25] Adrian: It's really good to hear this whole story of reclaimed materials and that's something we love doing as well. It can get out control as you said, but I find that a lot of designers tend to find materials, find things that they appreciate, whether it's on a material level or on another level and have those as inspiration sitting around and just wait for the right moment to be utilized.

[00:30:52] You know, I know that piece of wood will be good for something when I use it eventually. Delving deeper into that process at Manakristo, what is that and maybe you can give an example of a product or two of the story of that product, how it came to be and what it is.

[00:31:11] Tsedaniya Delnessa: I have a, a lamp. I got the wood from a friend who's also into conservation work as in like environmental conservation. I became friends with them through school and everything, and they had these two pieces of wood. And I believe it's either very old Acacia, and they were driving and they picked it off the side of the road, you know, and stayed in their compound for ages.

[00:31:35] Eventually they moved it into the house so that insects and bugs don't attack it. And I remember thinking, oh, that's a lovely piece. And like I said, I've been lucky with people just saying, Hey, you know, like here's... like a chunk of wood. Do you want it? So the husband, he's like, oh, so I have these two pieces. I'm really not gonna do anything with it.

[00:31:56] And I'm gonna keep it here forever. So, he just gave it to me. I took it and I think I stayed with it for about two years. I knew what I wanted to do, but I wasn't so sure of my skills yet, you know, and because I'm very aware there's no putting wood back together once you've broken it, you know?

[00:32:17] So I was like, okay, I'm gonna be patient. It will come to me when it comes to me. So, eventually I ended up finding this wiring that's like one of those old types that was wrapped in cloth. Some kind of fabric. And I remember that because it was in my grandparents' home with the lighting systems, you know.

[00:32:35] I wanted to maintain the aesthetic of the wood itself. I think it's on my Instagram. You'll see it there. And I bought the light the exon lamps to make it look old and everything, but it took over two years to really know what to do with it because I didn't want to make mistakes. And once it was done, it's pretty hard to let go because now it's becoming a baby, you know? It just sat there for a while, just no purpose, no anything. But I think when the idea comes to you, it's great.

[00:33:06] I have another piece where it's like a rectangular piece of wood. The grain's beautiful but it's meaningless. You know, the wood by itself is absolutely meaningless, and it's a lot easier to just throw it away than do anything else with it. I had it for a while, and what I would do is... you know, when it's the low season or whatever, I would just take some oil and I would just oil the wood to keep it moist and like, not crack or anything.

[00:33:34] And then on a trip to Ethiopia, I found one cross that I thought would fit in really well. The cross itself had tarnished. So, I do keep the pieces wait for them to get to a certain point and then, you know, the ideas come to you and whether it's with the fabric or anything else is the same thing, basically.

[00:33:53] Adrian: Great. Yeah, I got to check those out on your Instagram. I've seen them now. Yeah, very well matched. Everything is really curated and has its own style. So definitely. Yeah. Really great work. Other examples of culture you'd like to share or maybe other anecdotes or stories that you have that you'd really like people to hear.

[00:34:15] Tsedaniya Delnessa: I think it's just now for me in terms of culture, it's working with beads, you know, because I know the larger African continent there was a lot of trade that was done in beading. And it's one of those things that is also lacking in Ethiopia. And now that I'm making my home in Nairobi, I'm also aware that I cannot be exclusively Ethiopia.

[00:34:38] You know, so I am trying to just make sure that I cover as much of Africa as possible and also on earth what connects us, you know, and there's always been trade, but it's always geographically to one area or another. So now it's the east west trade basically between East Africa and West Africa and opening up those avenues to see what's possible.

[00:35:03] And especially digging into less of the fashion and more of the other stuff that comes out of it. Cuz there there's a lot of fashion linkages between the entire continent, you know? I think the end game is, you know, telling our stories in a way that pays homage to where we've come from.

[00:35:21] I know now, you know, we're into this fusion stuff and everything and, and that's great. But it's also finding different ways of appreciating what we have. Understanding where we came from and not just working on Ethiopia because it's much easier for me, but, you know, digging out the history of Kenya as well and seeing where did these traditions and cultures come from.

[00:35:42] So there's a master's student who's studying traditional music in Kenya and through different conversations we understood that because a lot of the indigenous trees no longer exist in certain ecosystems. Creating the instruments from those materials is not possible. Some of the grass has died out, some of the trees have died out, the seas don't exist anymore. You can try to build something out of the, you know, the coastal tribes and the musical instruments they used to have, but they have to now find replacements and the musical instruments are dying out.

[00:36:17] So it is just to keep alive what we used to have because just like I was saying with my grandparents things over time because there was no appreciation or understanding of it. Not even pictures, you know, that we can show future generations. The musical instruments are now like, you know, these characters basically from the Maasai market.

[00:36:37] They're not well-made, they're not necessarily for use, they're more for decorating around the house, you know? I think it's to build up on what we already have and link up with others. So, there's not so much of replicating of efforts and tagging on and piggybacking with others to present these things basically.

[00:36:57] In terms of anecdotes, not much. I mean there are a lot of people that appreciate what gets done. I think the people that appreciate it the least right now are my kids because for them it's gotta be new. You gotta buy it from Amazon. It has to come from the supermarket. The supermarket or whatever.

[00:37:14] So, creating things out of nothing. You sometimes go like, I wish they would see the awe in creating this, you know, but that appreciation is not there yet. So I'm hoping that as they get older, this appreciation will come because I don't want them to be in the same kind of position where I had to find my identity in my thirties, and they have the chance to do that now.

[00:37:38] Adrian: And that sounds like you'll do a great job of letting them in on everything you are learning as well along the way. And really interested to hear what will come of your beading work as well. Uh mm-hmm. Our office is a, a place called Opportunity Factory. It's actually where the next festival is taking place.

[00:37:57] Yes. Hope to see you March 11th through the 19th. Hope to see you there at the festival. And they do beading an opportunity factory and it's all actually about makers, connecting makers to market and having open, honest relationships and making sure that the makers get what they deserve as well. Okay.

[00:38:17] I'm really interested in, in beading a question I've been asking as well. My partner is Maasai and we talk of traditional Maasai beading and often, mm-hmm, it uses the plastic beads. So yes, we'd like to think what came before those plastic beads. What are the, the seeds and the shells and clay and Yeah.

[00:38:38] Other materials that we can use to do the beading with.

[00:38:41] Tsedaniya Delnessa: No, that, that, that is very true. And the history of beading in Africa goes back to like 70 something thousand years ago where it started in Southern Africa actually. And I think the beading within East Africa became more popular with the, you know, the onset of the British coming over. It's just like when you think of the the indigenous Americans in North and, you know, US and everything they had their own beading culture, but it ended up being more of a trade thing with white people.

[00:39:13] And here again, the same thing kind of happened and we did move away from using, you know, shells and horns, bones, and different seeds and things like that. And this is one of the reasons I wanted to connect with the local cultures that are not doing this in terms of monetary value, but they're doing it for themselves because the beading culture in Kenya, within these tribes is when your daughter reaches a certain age, the mother teaches her.

[00:39:43] So, there's a line of girls, mothers, grandparents, great-grandparents, and this culture and heritage is passed down from, you know, mother to child to grandchild. Unfortunately there's a huge influx of these beaded completed works coming from China as well. And you know, that's one of the things that is kind of really heartbreaking because the same thing is happening in Ethiopia, where the local culture, the local handycrafts are being replaced by faster produced products from China being dumped over.

[00:40:15] And I think eventually it's getting to a point where we can come together as a collective and have policies from the government that protects these cultural heritages that we have and just make sure that, they just don't die out.

[00:40:29] Adrian: Yep. Absolutely. I hope we can pick up this conversation. I'm sure we could talk for hours about this, just, just about the sustainable fashion and, and so on and so forth. So yes, I'm glad that you're in Nairobi. I hope we get to pick this up again and, uh, definitely. Yeah.

[00:40:46] Brilliant. Thank you. I'll let you know. We'll keep you updated.

[00:40:50] Tsedaniya Delnessa: You too. Take care.

We hope you’re onboard as we continue our creative tour of Afrika!

In this episode, Tsedaniya Delnessa from Ethiopia discusses the history of Manakristo Designs, a company devoted to using salvaged and recycled wood along with tried-and-true wood finishes to create beauty over time. She emphasizes both the financial and aesthetic aspects that allowed her to give purpose to her passion for restoring the past.

So sit back, relax, and immerse yourself to this weeks episode as she dives deep into her motivations for reclaiming the wood while also shedding light on the** stories behind the myths and legends**, around her community that have shaped our cultures today.

This is the second episode under the ‘Shifting Narratives’ program supported by the British Council SSA Arts.

Frames, art pieces made from reclaimed wood by Manakristo Designs

Episode Credits

Produced by Nairobi Design

Host: Adrian Jankowiak

Producer, Shorts & Artwork: David King'ori

Music: Ngalah Oreyo (@ngalah_oreyo) and Mercy Barno (@merc.b_)