Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Baskets from Swaziland ~ International Folk Art Market 2010

This is the first of several posts I'll be making to share art from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market 2010. Today I have woven baskets from The Kingdom of Swaziland.

These beautiful baskets are made by the women of the Buhle Betfu Cooperative located in the Manzini region of Swaziland. This co-op, consisting of 108 members, weaves these colorful baskets from sisal; a tradition passed down from generation to generation. The cooperative helps to support women who have lost their husbands to HIV/AIDS. It also helps families in which the husband has lost work due to the collapse of the sugar industry. Sitsembiso Simelane represents the co-op and oversees quality control.

As I entered the booth, I passed a young woman in the process of weaving a basket. I had little time to take in my surroundings before Sitsembiso Simelane (I believe it was Sitsembiso. He wore no name tag.) placed a basket in my hands. "Smell it," he urged, "it's all natural." I put my nose close to the basket and took a deep breath. "It smells really nice," I told him. He started telling me about how they use berries to dye the sisal. I asked if they used anything to make the colors last or if they simply soaked it for a long time. He quickly replied that the process is very, very long.

I could tell that I was mostly getting his usual pitch and I wanted to delve a little deeper. It being Tour de Fleece time, I had a drop spindle in my shoulder bag. I took it out and showed him how I spin my wool. His face changed from that of a salesman to more personal in appearance. I was in!

Already an energetic character, he kicked up a notch and his eyes widened. He told me that now the women have to spin the sisal against their thighs and he illustrated the motion they use to twist the fiber. He said he wasn't sure that sisal could be spun with a spindle or on a wheel. I told him that it takes a little practice, but that I have spun similar fibers such as hemp and agave. This seemed to relieve him.

He then shared that on Monday, the day after the festival and before they return home, they were being given lessons on how to spin the sisal on a spinning wheel. I'm assuming this means that someone has donated a wheel or two to the co-op. He said they only had one day to learn and then they would have to know enough to take it back and teach the rest of their community. I assured him it would be okay and that the women could learn enough in a day. After all, these women are expert spinners without a single tool. Once they understand how a spinning wheel works, there will be no stopping them!

This seemed to make him happy, but then he noticed he was neglecting his other customers. I turned my attention to picking out a few baskets to bring home. They were all so nice that I found myself going back and forth between equally lovely specimens in my effort to make a decision. Sitsembiso came to my rescue. He explained that the baskets with the sun symbol stood for energy and that the spiral design was for life. This helped as I was feeling drawn to life that day. I selected two life baskets a little "energy".


WonderWhyGal said...

Beautiful! I love the spiral basket. It's so wonderful that you were able to learn about how they are made too.

Julie Petty said...

How interesting! I love the symbolism and tradition involved in making these baskets.