Watershed, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town info@maidenafricashop.co.za
I used to live in Zululand (1980s and 90s). I lived in Umfolozi, Hluhluwe and Mkuze Game Reserves. Rural life is very different to town life. Rural Zululand is relatively un-touched by technology: roads are rough dirt, piped water is rare and access to electricity is limited. Formal schooling is difficult to access and many folk have not graduated from high school.

Living in this area, there is a community of Zulu women who have learned the most remarkable traditional skill of weaving baskets using only materials from nature. It is as raw, organic and creative an art as I can imagine. How many people can use their hands, a traditional skill and mother-nature to create products which are so incredible that the baskets have become internationally sought-after collectors’ pieces? The traditional cultural designs and patterns have been adapted and the sale of these baskets has now become a significant part of the economic survival of these communities.

The original function of the baskets was to sieve beer and store dried herbs and food. The materials which are used to make the baskets are all natural and organic. Strands of grass are held together and “bandaged” with flat pieces of Ilala Palm leaves which have been dyed with the juices of leaves, bark, roots and fruits of indigenous plants. There are no patterns to follow, no programmes to copy. These women learn their art from skilled elders and practice, literally on the ground under the trees. Finger strength has to be developed, the grass held tightly, the palm leaves wrapped around the grass bundles to create coils, all the while stitching these coils together. The bigger baskets can take months to make. I marvel at how the coils do not spring apart, at how easily the patterns flow and at how there are no seams. I marvel at the colours, derived only from Nature. I marvel at the constancy of the proportions of the coils and how the shape of the basket is created and maintained.

Please help me to support the basket-weavers by buying their baskets. The Covid-19 Lockdown has been an economic disaster, especially for those communities that have no access to formal employment. I have an impressive collection of Zulu grass baskets at my shop, Maiden Africa at the V & A Waterfront. Baskets are also available for sale online https://www.maidenafricashop.co.za

A percentage of sales of baskets will go to the basket-weavers to help them survive and to keep this incredible cultural art alive.