Basketry is a skill that has been practiced up and down the continent for centuries with examples from the past coveted by collectors around the world. Today Africa’s basket weavers are redefining the art form employing ingenious methods to create modern functional home decor products. But whilst these baskets may appear to be merely functional or decorative products, taking the time to look beyond the aesthetics reveals the layers of stories woven into the strands; as basketry -a skill traditionally practiced by women- carries within it the stories of livelihoods, of hopes, dreams, achievements, and sacrifices. Highlighting just how powerfully storytelling transcends books and the written and oral words some of the fascinating woven stories that resonate with us include:
Gone Rural’s The Song of the Weaver, Biography Baskets, an evocative collection of baskets designed and woven by a generation of weavers: a grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter. Using the skills passed down from mother to daughter each piece in the collection is memoir; the intricately woven strands telling the story of the lives of Swazi women.
The weavers of Gahaya Links in Rwanda have used the traditional art of basketry as a vehicle in which to build hope by weaving the unifying spirit of lasting peace into their baskets. Recognising the potential of basketry towards fostering healing, by working with weavers from the countries different ethnic groups Gahaya Links has brought together communities once divided by the genocide of 1994.
Weaving baskets and bowls can take several days depending on the size and complexity of the design. In order to calculate the time taken to create their basket, at the end of each day the Tuareg weavers of Tavie Co-operative in Northern Niger weave a bit of indigo thread as a marker indicating where they left off. Once completed the indigo makers are not only decorative but result in unique baskets given the name Points Du Jour (Point of Day) as each reflect the time taken to create them.
These woven stories are beautiful reminders for us to acknowledge the people behind the craft, celebrating the humanness they bring to the products we buy or admire.