Traditional broom makers from Ghassaniyeh in the southern district of Zahrani told Lebanon’s Daily Star that they once made a decent living making straw brooms using materials sourced from the local region. But now straw itself has become prohibitively expensive and the community is turning to cheap nylon or plastic brooms that don’t work as well, putting yet another cottage industry at risk of obscurity.
Armenian-style broom-making was first introduced to southern Lebanon 75 years ago, according to the Daily Star.
Hajj Abbas Atweh taught men living in Ghassaniyeh how to source straw, soak it, and then bundle up to 500 pieces into a cohesive unit. Once assembled, the pieces are cut to give it a polished, finished look.
The craft soon became a tradition that the entire family could take part in, including children and grandparents.
Mohammad Hodroj, who was among Atweh’s original students, told the paper that at one time his family produced as many as 15,000 brooms annually. The soft straw was sourced from Egypt, Iraq and Syria while hard straw, which is harder to cut and manipulate and used for cleaning brooms, came from Bulgaria and Hungary.
But now it costs $2,000 a pound to purchase the straw for a product that sells for little more than $2 and artisans are struggling to cope – so much so that they have appealed to the Ministry of Industry and Tourism to help protect their craft.
And in order to generate awareness and interest in what they do, artisans have begun to invite children from various schools in Lebanon to come and visit them.
It’s hard to be competitive when a Chinese factory can process lesser quality plastic or nylon brooms for a fraction of the cost, but Abu Khater claims that these products are much inferior to the traditional straw brooms.
In addition to being less effective, “synthetic materials can also damage the carpets and other home textiles, whereas the straw broom cleans the carpet gently,” Hussein Abu Khater told the paper.
With approximately 80 brooms under his belt each day, Abu Khater is not completely out of business, but he fears that he and other villagers dependent on the trade might soon become completely swept out of business by the cheaper competition and less robust design model.
Somehow we have to ensure that doesn’t happen.
:: Daily Star