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African baskets

The Artistry Behind African Baskets

Did you know that the oldest African tribes (Nama and San) date back to 140,000 years ago? This means that this continent’s people have much to offer in terms of culture and art.

For example, many people know about African baskets. These are beautifully hand-woven and have their own brilliant colors and patterns.

Are you interested in learning more?

In this article, we’ll tell you about the history of African baskets. In addition, we’ll discuss the different techniques and materials used.

History of African Baskets

As you may have expected, African baskets were first created to serve functional purposes in the various tribes. Mostly, they’d make baskets for agricultural purposes.

For example, tribes would weave baskets to carry food, crops, and other produce to and from their villages. They’d also have a few in their homes to store food, spices, and even tobacco. Other things they’d possibly store included jewelry and money.

Some baskets were even used as hats, food covers, and sieves. With enough work and dedication, these African baskets could even be used as rafts.

As you can see, African baskets used to serve numerous useful purposes for the tribes that used them in the past. Today, these baskets have made it through the years and are now gorgeous works of art that sit in people’s homes.

Different Weaving Techniques

In general, there are 4 weaving techniques for African baskets: coiling, plaiting, twining, and checkerboard (or cross). Read on to find out more about each method.

Coiling

As you might be able to tell from the name, this type of weaving involves a circular look. Most of the Senegalese Wolof baskets you’ll find at DakarBazaar are made using this process. This coil style of basket weaving has been practiced in Senegal for generations, and Wolof girls learn weaving technique from their mothers and aunts. 

A coiled basket can be made from just 1 strand of fiber, or it can be a bunch of them that are sewn together. But the end result is the same: when you take a look at it, it’ll have a coiled pattern, starting at the middle and spiraling outward.

As we’ve mentioned above, some African baskets could be used as sieves. The coiled variety was used for that purpose.

Plaiting

Plaiting is a type of weaving that’s very similar to braiding your hair. It involves interlacing the material in itself. They’re usually flat and wide, almost like ribbons.

The wicker baskets you see in stores are made through the process of plaiting. This is a very strong basket weaving method that creates sturdy baskets for various uses.

Depending on the materials used and the exact plaiting method, you’ll get baskets that have distinguishable patterns.

Twining

Twining is a type of weaving method that makes very strong edges on a basket. It uses several materials; 1 to make up the sturdy base and the rest to make up the more flexible body of the basket.

With many African baskets, you’ll find 3 or even more materials used for twined baskets. It involves a complicated technique of weaving each strand in opposite directions to one another.

As you can imagine, twining takes very talented and skilled basket makers to pull this method off.

Checkerboard or Cross

You may have already guessed it: this technique creates an even checkerboard pattern that’s very pleasing to the eye.

This method is carried out by alternating strands in perpendicular positions.

Materials Used for African Weaving

The materials used determine which basket making patterns are employed. Let’s take a look at what was traditionally used for African baskets versus what’s used now.

Do note that weavers may incorporate other materials to either strengthen the basket or add to the design. Some examples include beads, shells, and leather.

Traditional Materials

In older times, African tribes would use materials that were available in their local regions. For instance, they may have used banana leaves, cane, ilala palm, or papyrus.

For this reason, it’s very easy to tell which tribe has made which baskets.

Modern Materials

Today, African baskets are still popularly made. However, with modern technology, it’s become a lot easier to source materials.

Not only do modern African basket weavers sometimes use traditional materials, but they also utilize modern synthetic materials as well. Traditionally, Wolof women crafted baskets by binding njodax, a thick local grass, with thin strips of palm frond. This material was difficult to work and very hard on the hands of the weavers.  An innovation was discovered using recycled plastic strips  from a mat factory in Dakar. Today’s Wolof baskets are still predominantly consist of natural grasses. But this simple change in the binding material greatly reduced the physical toll of the weaving process, combining traditional crafting techniques with contemporary materials.

More About African Baskets

Before the weaver can get started on the baskets, they must first prepare the materials. For example, they’ll need to apply techniques to make the material more pliable so they can weave the baskets.

They’ll also sometimes dye the strands to create the vibrant colors you see on many African baskets. Traditionally, they’d dye the strands with natural substances, such as fruits, berries, and leaves.

How to Use Them in Your House

You can certainly display a breathtaking African basket as a work of art, either in a display cabinet or as decor around your house. However, you can use these baskets to their full potential by giving them some purpose, just as they’ve long been used in Africa.

For instance, you can purchase a few to place around the house for storage. Use one for storing your dog’s favorite toys while using another to put all your toddler’s toys in.

African baskets also make great hampers. They’re nice and strong, plus they add a nice touch to the aesthetics of your bathroom. Most come with a lid as well, so you don’t have to worry about visitors seeing your dirty laundry.

Admire the Intricacies of African Basket Weaving

Now you know all about African baskets, including the history, basket weaving styles, and the materials used.

Have you developed a new sense of admiration for this art? Then surely you’d like to pick up a basket or two for your home. After all, they’d make wonderful decorations, and they’re for sure great conversation starters.

In that case, take a look at our selection of African baskets and bags. We’ve got a nice range available for you!