100 years of International Women’s day- Lillian’s story

International Women’s Day is 100 years old and the question on everyone’s mind is how have things changed for women during that time. As we count down to International Women’s day I will  introduce you to one by one of our female producers here at Ethnic Supplies


Please meet Lillian.


Lillian is 70 years old and has lived around Lake Bunyonyi in SW Uganda and knows the surrounding of this landscape inside out. In her time there have been numerous presidents and she has seen leaders come and go. She lived through the Milton Obote and Idi Amin regimes and when, asked what has changed here during all her life time, nothing seems to come to her mind at first.

When we met Lillian we asked her about the changes she has seen in her life time.

“Not that many|” she said. But suddenly her yes light up and she starts telling us how happy she is due to the long period of peace that this part of Uganda has enjoyed. She relates a story of the floating bodies that she saw in the lake during the Amin era. She then whispers “so something has changed after all”.

The old lady sighs again and continues. The big tourist resorts build for bazungu; this is Swahili for White Man,  is a new addition to the Lake and did not exit when she was growing up. In the old days she had no income but these days she is involved in handicraft production and is able to sell her wares to the odd tourist. She smiles as she recalls her childhood.

Lake Bunyonyi

Lillian’s husband died 10 years ago leaving her very little by way of property and income, she was one of three wives, her late husband had three wives, as polygamy was usual in the traditional culture of the Bakiga, the Ugandan hill tribe Lillian belongs to. Lillian had no choice but to accept this arrangement of sharing her husband with other women. The wives helped each other with household chores shared child care as well as the  strenuous work of tending the fields .Lillian has four children.

Problems started when the husband that Lillian shared with other women passed on. There were fights over the land and who would inherit it and there was not enough to go around amongst all the four wives.  Lillian got a small patch that she still cultivates this day. However in order to sustain herself she has had to rely on her skills as a basket weaver in order to survive financially. The baskets are made out of papyrus, a plant common by the shores of Lake Bunyonyi. Although Lillian had the skills to produce the baskets she had no access to markets that would enable her to utilise her skills to earn an income.

Her children supported her financially to some extent but as they had their own responsibilities they were not always able to do so. Lillian luck changed when Edirisa, a community based organization arrived in her village. Edirisa offered a route to the market for her baskets and she was finally able to make enough income to support herself. These baskets are sold on our online shop

Bread basket made by Lillian

Today Lillian’s life is not easy, but is better than she could have hoped for. She is up at dawn to tend her vegetable patch for several hours before the sun gets too hot and spends sometime weaving baskets as well as tending to other household chores. Lillian always ends her day with more weaving and tries to take advantage of the natural day light as she has no electricity and makes her dinner at dusk

Lillian doesn’t complain about her life and is grateful to have lived this long as the average life in Uganda is about 47 years old. She is able to support herself and has a sheep and a goat.  She says that she is happy with her life. She smiles a bit, sighs once more and starts to weave another basket.



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