Banana is like the tale about seven blind people and the elephant. To some people, it’s food, for a farmer it is fodder for animals, and for alcohol manufacturers; it is a raw material for some gins and beer like Urwagwa.
But for one youth in Gasabo district in Kigali province of Rwanda, the banana plant has a whole new meaning. Every morning, Celse Ngaruye wakes up in the morning to hunt for banana stems which he later makes into a final product: the banana lampshades.
When he has collected enough banana stems for the day, he chops them into small pieces, packs them in a sack and makes his way back to his art studio at Niyo Arts center based in Kacyiru. The banana stems are key raw material for his enteprise.
“Apart from the bulb and sockets, our final product is uniquely Rwandan,” he explains. Ngaruye says since he started the enterprise, he has had steady stream of customers, mostly tourists, who are impressed by the unique lampshades made from local products.
“I sell most of these eco-friendly products during the tourism peak periods, from May to November. This is the time, when many tourists flock into the country,” he says.
He says the lampshades he makes during the other months target local clients.
He adds that his other buyers include big hotels around Kigali, and individuals, who like ambiance the local lampshades create in bedrooms or living rooms.
“I have already started getting bulk orders from key hospitality industry players, like hotels. When they make their orders, they are free to dictate the style of the lampshades. I don’t mind this since I value my clients and their opinions,” says Ngaruye.
He notes that what has also endeared him to customers is the fact that buyers are free to choose their favourite colours.
He explains that the lampshades come in different colours, depending on the hue of the paper and ‘ibitenge’ fabrics used. Each lampshade costs between $100 (about Rwf80,000) and $150 (about Rwf120,000), when he sells to tourists, while Rwandans buy them at a bargain price.
The former visual artist says he has now concentrated on making lampshades abandoning his first love – painting – “because this business is more lucrative.”
“I realised that there’s a lot of competition when it comes to visual arts since many youth are into it. But making banana paper lampshades is a new phenomenon in Rwanda…it’s still a virgin field,” he says.
Ngaruye, who is soon holding a banana lampshade exhibition, says since his main buyers are tourists, that “business is low during off season (time when there are few tourists coming into the country)”.
He advises the youth to be creative, particularly experimenting with new ideas, to make it as entrepreneurs.
Ngaruye says he started making banana paper lampshades over a year ago after undergoing intensive training in the technology under a Japanese instructor, Kumiko Tsuda.
He says when Tsuda visited Uburanga Arts Centre (where he previously worked from)in 2015 , she was impressed with what the centre was doing and offered to teach the artists how to make lampshades using paper made from banana stems.
Banana lampshade is very popular product in Japan from where Tsuda comes from and the introduction of this product into Rwanda market is among the ways Rwanda is now promoting homegrown products.