Sourcing Ugandan Baskets

May 24, 2020

Sourcing Ugandan Baskets

My trip to Uganda only happened by chance because another trip fell through. Back in September 2019 I was due to travel to Zimbabwe to meet some brilliant weavers that I have know about for many years.  I last visited Zim some 25 years ago and was longing to return.  However, the more research I did, the more I realised what a hard journey it would be.  When we travel we like to take public transport as much as possible to keep our costs down. Zimbabwe meant hiring a car and driver for 10 days or alternatively self drive - which in Africa is not something I relish. Roads are dotted with potholes, tarmac is fast disappearing, trucks zoom along with no regard for normal speeds – even as a seasoned South African driver it scares the pants off of me.  So, after being told many times that the buses were impossible, only leaving when they are full and if they have petrol (petrol is very scarce) and that the off the beaten track places I needed to get to were hard to reach I changed travel plans and headed off to Uganda.

"Uganda is another country I had always wanted to visit and I wasn't disappointed."

basket weavers dancing in uganda

Its airport is in a town outside the capital called Entebbe. Where famously a successful counter-terrorist hostage rescue mission took place, carried out by the Israel Defence Force in July, 1976. Growing up in the jewish community in South Africa this was big news and 'Operation Entebbe' even became the subject of a movie 'Entebbe' released in 2018.

That aside, Uganda is a peaceful country and one that I had been told was very, very beautiful.  It was. A lot of tourism there is centred on Primate reserves.  It is one of the best places to see Gorillas and Chimpanzees and tourism contributes greatly to the protection of these magnificent creatures.  Unfortunately, I did not get to see any but what I did see was way more up my street (or dust road in this case).

bee friedmann with robert mwehe in uganda

I had established contacts in Uganda in the months before I travelled and also met a good friend of mine, Robert Mewhe, from Kenya there.  Robert (pictured above, right) introduced me to the very first weavers we worked with in Kenya back in 2010 and travelling with him was a great honour and pleasure.  Robert has a Masters in Environmental Management from Yale and craft development is close to his heart.  It was great to be able to travel with him again.  His guidance and sense of humour and humanity is so inspiring and we are now like family.

market stall in uganda

So off we went, on a bumpy bus to the town of Fort Portal where we met with Ruth who is now our main lady on the ground.  Ruth took us around and with the help of a local taxi driver we ventured deep into the rural areas to meet some of the most talented weavers and fill the taxi boot with their baskets.

basket weavers in uganda

In Uganda Baskets are made out of traditional fibres, sourced locally. Baskets are made at home in between household chores, subsistence farming and looking after children.  The income from weaving enables people to uplift their lives and goes towards paying for education and food. We have two types at the moment but both are ‘coiled baskets’. 

The thicker coiled baskets are made out of raffia wrapped and stitched around a coil of dried grass and banana leaf stems.  The raffia is dyed and a sharp metal tool is used to aid the wrapping.  

poking tool used to make baskets in uganda

The thinner coiled baskets are made by a collective started in 2005 with 146 members by a very enterprising lady called Kellen who is still in charge of the collective.  These baskets are also made by wrapping raffia around a central coil but in this case the coil is made out of millet straw, which forms a much more delicate coil.  All the materials are sourced locally and the dyes are all natural colours derived from local vegetation.

separating raffia for ugandan baskets

Weaving is a long process and it takes around 2 – 3 days to weave a 12-14” basket.  This is on top of harvesting, preparing and dying the materials.  Banana trees and raffia palms grow in abundance around villages and homesteads.

weaving ugandan baskets

Traditionally baskets are used to hold food (lined with a cloth) or to carry and store household items. Many of the Ugandan homesteads I visited also had them hung on the wall as decoration.

I visited several different groups during my trip, each making baskets slightly differently from one other.  The baskets that you see on our website are all ones that I bought directly from the groups I visited and now we are working with a few of the weavers to produce specific designs for us. Ruth is helping us as she is very invested in helping her community and hopefully one day soon we will be able to see each other and have a huge hug and a catch up over a banana juice at her home. 

Browse and buy our collection of Ugandan Baskets online here.

local homestead in Uganda

 

 




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