Zulu Ilala palm basket weaving is an ancient, time-consuming process.
Traditional technique styles are Imbenge, Isichumo, Isiquabetho & Ukhamba.
Ukhamba baskets are decorative, bulb shaped containers, watertight due to the tightness of the weave. Read the story..
Each Zulu basket is lovingly handcrafted in the northeast coastal and inland areas of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. All natural fibers, materials and dyes are used to construct these unique treasures. Most of the people in this region are subsistence farmers living in traditional Kraals, areas bordered by acacia sticks that encircle traditional family dwellings.
The age-old tradition of basket weaving is usually passed down from grandmother to granddaughter. This helps to preserve Zulu culture as the grandmothers have the opportunity to recite oral history and stories to the younger generations as they all weave together.
Zulu women prepare the materials for weaving these baskets by collecting Ilala palm fronds, pulling them into strips, then use natural materials such as mud, flowers, charcoal, bark, roots and other found materials to dye them before hanging them to dry. The palm fronds have a natural waxy coating which makes them ideal for weaving watertight baskets.
The larger baskets are traditionally woven by a bride-to-be or given to a new couple as wedding gifts. During the wedding the baskets will be used to hold ceremonial beer. Prior to its first use, minute openings in the basket are sealed from the inside with a paste of coarsely ground corn. More elaborate designed and intricately patterned baskets denote the relative wealth and power of the family. A mid-sized basket may take a month to weave, but a huge masterpiece basket can often take over a year to weave.
Large, watertight baskets with lids that fit snugly inside the opening at the top are called Ukhambas. Isichumo baskets have a lid that fits over and around the opening. Smaller Iquthu lidded baskets, or “herb baskets”, often have a looser weave, and are traditionally used to store medicinal remedies.