Donald Itsoga prefers working outdoors where he enjoys interacting with nature. Photo /  Courtesy

By Firmain Eric Mbadinga

Thanks to the dexterity of his hands, the eco-friendly products that Donald Itsoga creates are as varied as they are captivating. They range from baskets to straw hats, tablecloths and rugs - all weaved from coconut palm leaves.

And Donald does his creative work in the open air. His chosen site is the oceanfront of Gabon's capital, Libreville, renowned for its inspiring sunsets and refreshing air.

For the craftsman decorator, this setting allows him to not only be in contact with nature, but also to be an eyewitness to the interaction between man, the coast and the ocean.

" Most of the time here in Gabon, when there are happy or unhappy events, we always use palm leaves as decorations,'' he tells TRT Afrika.

"As for me, I decided six years ago not to use palm leaves any more, but rather those of the coconut tree, and to add value to them by braiding them," Donald explains, as he gets down to setting up his workspace in the morning.

Donald's creations are sought after for social events. Photo / Courtesy

Donald got the idea of working with coconut leaves after meeting two friends, one from Martinique and the other from Togo.

After a long debate, the three agreed on the importance of nature and each of its elements as a fundamental principle of life.

The use of coconut branch leaves, is part of a useful and balanced system of the elements of nature, they agreed.

An avid music fan, Donald imagined his working life would take him around the world, microphone in hand, rather than investing in weaving which is virtually dominated by women.

"I never imagined I'd be doing this job," confirms Donald. However, his middle name, Forest, could explain his positive response to the call of nature.

The pricing of the decorations depends on the nature of the event. Photo / Courtesy

Donald Itsoga's first showcase of his weaving talents was a domestic one during his aunt's wedding.

''I wanted to do something for her wedding. It all started when I went to decorate her wedding. I did some braiding. As I was doing this, I noticed that people were looking at the decoration and its coconut leaf accessories with great admiration. One thing led to another, and the images were posted on social networks, and after that I found myself with orders I wasn't expecting," he explains.

With an ever-increasing number of orders for decorative objects, Donald wasted no time in realising his desire to train and pass on his know-how.

Three years after taking the plunge, he welcomed Jean-Paul Manga ''Pablo'', who has since become his collaborator.

For a job that can be very demanding on the back and fingers, Pablo's helping hand is not too much to ask.

With over 88% of its territory covered by forest, Gabon offers a wealth of trees whose leaves are used by numerous artists and craftsmen, and even therapists. Coconut palms are mainly found along its 950 km coastline.

Thanks to their work designing, making and decorating interiors, the two companions say they have saved themselves from want.

''As far as services are concerned, it depends. For a traditional wedding, for example, you can ask for eight hundred thousand CFA Francc (about $1,300), seven hundred thousand, five hundred thousand, one million or more. So it all depends on the intensity of the work," says Donald, referring to the financial aspect of his job.

Donald with his partner Pablo showcase one of their creations. Photo / Courtesy

To stay competitive and true to their roots, Donald and Pablo aim to incorporate elements of Gabonese rich culture and traditions into their craft.

''Today, the family is proud, our friends, our parents, everyone is proud. Gabon has really, really, really added a touch to the coconut leaf. Today, we're doing a lot of things, we're really doing some magnificent things," says the decorator, all smiles.

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TRT Afrika