Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Weaving a future for Bolga's beautiful baskets

Weaving and selling Bolga Baskets provides a vital income to many in Bolgatanga and the Upper East Region of Ghana. Therefore, William (a national volunteer of Cohort 7) has been working tirelessly to address key challenges to two groups of basket weavers in order to make a difference. Find out in this post how baskets are weaved and the needs and solutions identified with the craft women in the Vea and Zaare communities. 

William running a Fair Trade Awareness session with the Zaare Basket Weaver group

The Integrated Community Empowerment (INCOME) Project of TradeAID works with numerous groups such as Leather workers, Fabric Weavers, Smock Makers, Craft women with disabilities and Basket Weavers. The project has tremendously helped the basket weavers over the past one and a half years, but still more is needed to be done to improve the lives of basket weavers.

Ever since I was assigned by Emily, our team leader, to be the one responsible for the basket weavers in cohort seven, I have been tirelessly doing my best to make a change in the basket industry in the Upper East Region.

History of the Bolga Basket
Basket making began in Bolgatanga several years ago. It all started with shepherds making hats for themselves out of a local grass known as vetivar. Baskets were also made to be used to sieve malt for a local drink call “PITO” and also for winnowing. After the Second World War, markets began to open up in the region and basket weaving, in the form of the traditional round baskets with natural and colored weaves made from local dyes, began to appear.  The basket market became more popular during the sixties when Ghanaians from all over the country bought the round baskets as gifts for Christmas and other occasions. Baskets are now designed for a number of uses. Our Bolga baskets are hand crafted, lightweight and attractive. You can use them for shopping, picnics, tending to plants or as a safe place to store your favorite items.

With so many choices, it will be easy to find just what you are looking for. Each basket is very lightweight, yet extremely durable and designed for years of use. You can avoid collecting and disposing of paper and plastic bags by using these baskets for grocery shopping or for a trip to the local farmer’s market. Our purses and handbags make wonderful, unique gifts for friends and families. Choose a fruit basket for a colorful display on the dinner table.

The weaving and dying process of a Bolga Basket
Before I talk of the trials that the basket weavers face, it is beneficial for you to know the processes that a completed basket passes through:
  • Vetivar grass/straw, known locally as Kinka-asi is collected from the tops of the grass stalk. It is dried for two to three days and each straw is then split in half vertically.
  • Each half of the split straw is then twisted tightly or loosely depending on the type of basket the weaver intend to weave. The twisting is done by rolling it back together to give it strength.
  • The twisted straw, known locally as Mi-isi is put in bunches and dyed in boiling water. The Mi-isi is dyed in yellow first to get bright colors afterwards. 
Dyed vetivar straw
  • The weaver carefully selects appropriate mi-isi for the base, sides and handles of the basket. The selection of the appropriate mi-isi for the various parts of the basket is critical to good weaving.
Willy weaving the base of an oval basket
  • Weaving starts at the base and graduates up to the rim. The rim is generally finished flat, or wrapped with mi-isi to form a tube-like edge. The handles are of different styles, but all are made with a sturdy wrapping technique around a grass core.
  • Remaining bits of mi-isi that are sticking out of the basket are carefully trimmed off. Leather are skilfully attached to the handles by local leather workers.
The straws will be trimmed once the basket is finished
  • A standard traditional round basket takes about three days to be completed. Some shapes and patterns are more difficult to weave and take longer time.

Challenges and solutions for the basket weaver groups
In order to make these beautifully designed products from the baskets weaver, the weavers are faced with lots of challenges. The most tenacious ones include: irregular supply of baskets orders; no light in their weaving centers for them to weave at night; inadequate straw during their lean season; insufficient utensils for dyeing their colours; and a lack of capacity building workshops on product diversification.

However, these needs are starting to be addressed by the INCOME Project. A needs assessment was carried out with the Vea basket weavers group and action points were then made to focus on in this Cohort. Having light to weave at night was part of the needs listed by the group and, as a result, the group on Wednesday 13th August 2014, our team presented two solar lamps and two buckets to the group to supplement the light problem. The buckets will also help in fetching water for dyeing their colors.

William showing how the solar lamps work to
the Vea basket weaver group 
In regards to other needs, we are working industriously with all our strength to make sure that by the end of our three months on the INCOME Project, that we will be leaving an indelible impression on the basket industry in the Upper East Region.

Below are some of the beautiful products crafted by the basket weavers:

By William Akalari

These and many more baskets are available to buy on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TradeAID?ref=l2-shopheader-name  

Now you have to see William in action....watch him weaving a basket: 

1 comment:

  1. Great work and beautiful products! Have you read the article from Trax Ghana in the Bolgatanga Daily? http://paper.li/BarcampBolga/1402079107