Basket weaving a cultural identity
For decades, basket weaving in Botswana has been an integral part of the people’s rural culture and business undertakings. Baskets were traditionally used for domestic purposes such as storage of grains and seeds as well as for winnowing. The shape of the basket was determined by its function.
The baskets come in all different type of sizes and shapes, and can be either closed or open. In recent years, the uniqueness of the baskets and their scarcity has made them a luxurious item, which is customarily now used as a decorative item. As the baskets are handmade, no two are the same, making them a unique and treasured souvenir to own or give as a gift.
The basket weaving practise is mostly dominated by women, based mostly in rural areas, as a source of income, particularly women from the north western district, Ngamiland and most popularly, a north east village of Etsha. In recent years, the weaving industry has become more formal and organised with women forming Trusts in order to reap the rewards of commercialising basket weaving as the demand for the baskets by tourists steadily grows.
The raw materials used are the fibres of the vegetable ivory palm tree, locally known as mokolwane. In earlier times, each of the designs had a story to tell, the designs such as wildlife and traditional houses, all depicted the way of life of the locals. In The evolution of basket weaving in the past three decades have seen the introduction of different coloured patterns and prints where the dried palms are tinted with roots or bark of locally found plants. It takes up to approximately five weeks to complete a large basket.
A thick sharpened piece of wire in a wooden handle is used to weave the fibre through a tight coil, with coloured fibres introduced at intervals to create a pattern.
Botswana baskets are considered the finest in Southern Africa. The most famous crafts to come out of Botswana which have stood the test of time. Their importance and use remains relevant even in modern times. Ultimately, they have found their way into the international markets, with increased demand from countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Germany.
The author is from Botswana High Commission