Artisan Story: Basket Weaving Cooperative in Zimbabwe

At Meridian, every object tells a story: A story of its maker, how it was made, where it came from, and why that object is an important representation of artisan craft and cultural heritage. Without those details, a basket is just a basket. But with a story, your Meridian basket becomes a piece of heirloom home decor, rich with history and passion infused by the artisan whose hands crafted it.

To tell our stories, we celebrate the makers: The people who learn from their elders, who source their materials in the nature that surrounds them, who sit on the ground and mold with their hands the objects that we love.

Today we’re sitting down with Evah, a member of our artisan partner women’s cooperative in Northern Zimbabwe that specializes in traditional basket weaving using palm leaves. Evah has a bubbly personality that oozes happiness. She is devoted to her family and her village. From the minute you meet Evah, it is obvious that she loves talking to people and learning from others.

Evah (left) smiles with another weaver in her cooperative.

Evah grew up as the third oldest child of seven. While attending school, she learned to weave as a young teenager from a woman in the neighboring village. She fell in love with the craft and has been weaving ever since.

Evah is married with young three children, ages 5 to 15. Her typical day begins very early, before the sun rises, when she prepares for the morning and ensures her family gets what they need to depart for work and school. By 8:30, she has begun her own work. Evah weaves for more than six hours each day. She meets her cooperative in the shade of a large tree where they gather to share ideas and encouragement for each other’s projects.

Each basket takes at least 7 days to create. Evah tells us that large baskets with more complicated designs can take as long as one full month! From start to finish, the weavers’ process is entirely handmade. To harvest their materials, the women use an axe to cut the leaves from the local ilala palm that grows in the bush surrounding their village. Each palm stalk contains both hard and soft leaves that must be separated and severed from their base using a sharpened knife.

Evah displays the drying of palm leaves.

After the women have completed the de-stemming and sorting process, they boil the leaves to soften them. They add tree bark and roots to help darken the leaves and continue to boil the pot until everything is very dark. After the leaves have cooled and air dried in the hot sun over several days, the weaving process begins.

Tree bark assists in the darkening process.

Evah says that her designs are memorized and many are inspired by the nature that surrounds her. The center of each basket begins with a distinctive herringbone pattern that blends elegantly into Evah’s unique designs. Some baskets contain the kano kanziva pattern, or the foot of the dove. Others are kafuwa kanswi, which are inspired by fish.

Evah displays one of her creations, mid-weaving.

Traditionally, illala palm baskets are used in Zimbabwe for serving fruit, filtering grain and gathering eggs. They are given as a traditional wedding gift because of their usefulness. We think they are a wonderful and practical gift, either as a serving basket or featured as a collection on the wall. Their neutral colors and organic patterns compliment any design style, from contemporary to traditional.

The cooperative currently employs over 80 women artisans who have learned to weave from each other and their ancestors. Earnings are used to support their families as well as cover schooling fees for their children. It is important to Evah to invest in the future and help those less fortunate. She has big hopes for her weaving business: “I wish to be the biggest supplier of baskets,” she tells us. “I hope to have a farm for palm trees and empower all women age groups to weave.” She also is working toward using funds from her basket sales to build a children’s home, two schools and a hospital.

We’re delighted to feature Evah’s work as part of our launch collection. We hope that her enthusiasm and work ethic shine through to your home. As you serve your family’s food in one of Evah’s baskets, or use it to collect odds and ends on your coffee table, think of her story and her bright and friendly smile.

Shop Woven Palm Baskets:

Meridian | Woven Palm Basket
Woven Palm Basket XXVIII
Meridian | Woven Palm Basket
Woven Palm Basket XXXII

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meridian | Woven Palm Basket
Woven Palm Basket XXX
Meridian | Woven Palm Basket - Large
Woven Palm Basket XXIX

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