In this fast-paced world and instant-gratification-minded society it is easy to develop a metaphoric nearsightedness; a vision that sees what is on the surface, but fails to penetrate to the deeper, more meaningful layers. I speak of this in terms of consumerism. Oft times we see a product we like for it’s appearance or functionality, but take no thought as to how that product came about. In many instances we are completely ignorant to the man-hours, the process, the cost of production. Part of my goal with this blog is to help extend our vision so that we can more fully appreciate handcrafted items for the unique treasures that they are.
On average it takes an Ugandan artisan two to three days to weave a 12-14” banana leaf raffia basket. That, in itself, is impressive, but consider also the time and effort that goes into procuring and preparing the materials (they don’t have the luxury of just picking them up from the store) and you will have a much greater appreciation for their uniqueness.
Uganda is home to a specific species of banana plant from which banana leaf stalks, called bukedo, are harvested. The banana plants are often intentionally made part of the landscape around the homes of many artisans. As they eat the fruit of the plant and then harvest the leaf stems for weaving, new growth is promoted making it completely sustainable. The leaf is cut from the tree and the stalk is split in half. After drying, the split-half is split again several times to separate a number of individual fibers, which are bundled together. This forms a sturdy base for raffia to be coiled around.
Raffia comes from the raffia palm, which can reach heights up to 60 feet (18 meters) and is known for having the largest single branch of any palm in the world. The tree trunk must be scaled to great heights in order to reach the tender green leaves. New leaf growth is cut and a very thin membrane, the raffia, is meticulously pulled off in a single long strip. The raffia then must be dried in a very particular way--it shrivels if laid flat to dry in the sun rendering it useless for weaving. Once dried the raffia appears cream in color, but at this point, it can be dipped into boiling dye (derived naturally from various foliage in the area) to achieve a variety of different colors. The drying process must be repeated after dying.
Ugandan bukedo and raffia baskets are woven using the “coil” technique. The banana leaf stalks are bundled (6-7 fibers together) and the raffia is wrapped around the bundle. The artisan begins to coil each row as the raffia is wrapped around the banana leaf stalks. The rows are secured together by single raffia stitches every few inches. By incorporating different colors of dyed raffia into the weaving process the artisan produces a uniquely and beautifully designed basket.
Check out our banana leaf raffia baskets from Uganda. Traditionally used to hold food (must be lined with a cloth if you choose to use it in this way), these sturdy baskets look fabulous on a table or hung on a wall for decorative purposes (they do have a loop with which they can be hung).