Many cultures have long traditions of basket making. Baskets can be seen to embody a dynamic blend of culture, technology and environment, and traditionally they were made from natural plant fibres. Basketry continues as a living tradition and its uses, aesthetics and even materials are subject to ongoing change.

One of the southern African regions famous for locally produced baskets is in KwaZulu-Natal, north of the Thukela River. Perhaps best known are baskets now largely made for the tourist trade, which derive from traditional water-tight beer baskets (izichumo). 

Stitches on coiled Zulu beer basket

These baskets are made using a coil, wrapping and over-sewing technique, with Ilala Palm (Hyphaene coriacea) as the principle fibre. Dyes are made from specially prepared roots, bark, leaves or berries of plants

Basket makers respond to the changing buying preferences of tourists and so the use of colour and design is altered to meet these tastes. Producing a single basket takes many days, from the time taken harvesting and transporting the raw materials, preparing and dyeing these materials, added to the days spent making the basket by hand. Whether basket makers are adequately compensated for their time and levels of skill and artistry is a contentious issue.

Base of Zulu beer basketA view of the base (bottom) of the basket showing its perfectly round shape and symmetry

The beautiful basket in the photographs was bought in the Hluhluwe region of KwaZulu-Natal. At many markets, the label with the name of the basket maker is removed from a basket at point of sale to be kept as a record so that the maker will be paid. When buying it, I made a note of the name of the maker of this exquisitely designed basket that is perfectly balanced and symmetrically shaped. To my ongoing regret, while travelling I lost my note recording her name. How sad to have this wondrous piece of art and not to know even the name of its creator.

Weekly photo challenge: This week‘s theme is Heritage, and the invitation is to share a photo that channels a living tradition, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. Click here to see images on this theme from other bloggers.

Posted by Carol