The Baskets

Feel the mystery and essence of Africa with these superb Zulu baskets, each one unique and lovingly hand stitched.

In this age of modern technology and mass production, it is a joy to see and feel the dignified elegance and beauty of a rich Zulu heritage that has become a collectable art-form, preserving an age-old tradition proudly safeguarded and handed down through the generations.

Every basket is made by hand, using indigenous raw materials, and the type of basket varies from area to area, depending on the availability of raw materials, and the use to which the basket is to be put.  It can take up to one month to produce a medium-sized basket that will be unique in size, shape, pattern, weave and colour.  A true collector’s item.

Zulu Basket Types

IMBENGE - A small, saucer-shaped bowl traditionally woven with Ilala palm and grass fibres.  A modern version is woven by men from telephone wire, resulting in a bright kaleidoscope of colour and pattern and very collectable.  The imbenge is used as a platter for serving dried foodstuffs, as well as used upside down to function as a lid or cover for the clay beer pots.  When not in use it is hung up on the wall of the hut as part of the décor.
UKHAMBA - A rigid, bulb shaped container, rendered water-tight by the tightness of the coil/weave and the material used (Ilala palm).  When liquids (generally home-brewed beer) are introduced into the ukhamba, the pores swell, whilst the outside sweats, thus keeping the liquid cool by means of evaporation.  These baskets are usually very decorative and colourful, particularly those made for ceremonial use.
ISICHUMO - A rigid, bottle-shaped basket used for carrying liquids, it often has a lid which fits over the neck like a cap.  The same stitching technique is used as a Ukhamba and it works on the same principle.
ISIQUABETHO - A large basin-shaped basket used for gathering and carrying grain.  The smaller bowls are used for serving dry foods such as beans, fruit or nuts.


MATERIALS COMMONLY USED IN ZULU BASKET-WEAVING
ILALA PALM  –  Mostly desirable.  Grows along the North-Eastern Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.  Once cut and dried, the leaf is then prepared for weaving into fine, often water-tight baskets – Natural shade: Cream
NCEBE – Bark of wild Banana, natural shade: light brown.  These baskets are not watertight - used for dry-storage.  Dyed Ilala interwoven to impart colour and design.


SOME COMMON COLOURS USED IN ZULU BASKET-WEAVING

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All colours are natural, obtained from boiling roots, leaves, berries and bark of indigenous flora.  Many are seasonal.
*BROWN/BLACK (isizimane) – Roots of tree, crushed and boiled for many days.
*PINK/LILAC (Mpheghumbetu) – Leaves of small bush (12 – 18 hours)
*CORAL (Mgwenya) – Aloe Roots (4 – 6 hours)
*PURPLE/BLUE (Umdoni) – Skin of ripe umdoni berries (4-5 hours)
*BURGUNDY/MAROON (Isfixu) – Bark of Maula Tree (1-2 hours)
*ORANGE (Xomisane) – Roots of small plant (2-4 hours)
*MUSTARD/YELLOW (Icena) –Paste of wood-ash and water.  Soaked overnight, boiled 5-7 hours.
*GREY (Ijuba) – Soaked in black mud for up to 1 week.
*KHAKI GREEN (Mxuba) – Fresh Cow dung, soaked overnight in water, thereafter boiled with palm leaves 4-5 hours.  The green colour is clearer in spring.

Basic Designes 

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 Triangle - Masculine

 Double Triangle forming hourglass shape - Married man

 Diamond - Feminine

 Double Diamond - Maried woman

Zig-zag pattern (Masculine) - “The Assegais of Shaka”

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Series of Diamonds (Feminine) - “The Shields of Shaka”

Small squares or dots – a celebration of fruitfulness -  (i.e. good rains, good crops, many cattle, a new child.)

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THE “MARRIAGE” DESIGN

A special basket is woven by the Bride, or a member of her family, as a gift from her to the Groom, which he will use at the Wedding as a beer-drinking vessel.  The story of the marriage is woven for prosperity, and for all to see – the more affluent the family, the more detailed the design woven into the basket.