African Jewelry Maker's Long Trek To The Web

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For twenty-five generations, a Tuareg family from the world's poorest nation has made high quality silver jewelry. Traveling with camel caravans to marketplaces or on crowded mini-buses to nearby countries, the Koumamas sold their exquisite creations to generate jobs for a huge extended family. A chance meeting with a California attorney has provided a vastly expanded venue - the World Wide Web.

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Elhadji Koumama of Niger (nee-ZHER) fits perfectly the romantic image of the tall, regal men with only their eyes showing in the slit in their indigo-dyed talgelmusts, or turbans. While this image is an accurate one, Mr. Koumama's recent arrival in the US for the launch of the Tuareg Jewelry Website marks a capstone to a twenty-five generation journey.

Like their Tuareg brethren, the Koumamas were semi-nomadic until the mid-seventies when drought forced them to settle in Agadez, the largest city in northern Niger. Their marketplace became confined to the occasional tourists who ventured into his dusty West African home. Then civil unrest in the form of the so-called Tuareg Uprising decimated that meager market. Elhadji persuaded his family to pool their resources to allow him to travel to Lagos, Nigeria to seek sales. Though sales improved, it was not until a chance meeting with San Francisco attorney Larry Lossing that the Koumama fortunes improved dramatically. Lossing purchased an exquisite Koumama pendant for his law partner and wife, Ann Elston. Shortly thereafter, Elston became the Koumama's US representative.

By selling the high quality sterling silver jewelry to museum shops, at street fairs and private parties, Elston has increased sales twenty-fold. With all proceeds being returned to the Koumamas, she has helped the family make strides towards its ultimate goal - full time employment for the extended family of hundreds. Having endured numerous twelve-hour trips to Agadez across Niger's desert from Niamey, the capital, Elston terms the launch of an oasis. "We've traveled a long road to get to this point," she says. "Now we will continue our journey to let jewelry lovers worldwide experience the unrivaled Koumama craftsmanship."

Koumama's arrival coincides with the launch of Elston's website which features sterling silver bracelets, earrings, pendants, crosses, rings, necklaces and assorted items for men and women. Some items feature unusual stones and some are accented with rare ebony.

Tuareg Jewelry is the official US representative of the Koumama family. It was established for the sole purpose of extending the marketplace for this extraordinarily talented family and create employment opportunities. Ann Elston (ongoing) and Elhadji Koumama (April - June 18) are available for interview.


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