Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Traditional base of Luyha palm basket

A traditional assortment of baskets

Basket modified to slowly cook heated food

 Luhya Baskets

A versatile basket for carrying maize and produce can be found in the Kakamega District of western Kenya. Traditionally woven by the Luhya tribe, this basket was originally made using both the stem from the long, weak stems of the understory plant Dracaena laxissma (tsimbaya in Luhya) and the midrib of the palm Phoenix reclinata (mashindu in Luhya). The palm is now almost exclusively used in the baskets. The rim is bound with the bark of the Dombeya coitzenii (mukusa in Luhya) tree. Mr. Solomon Kitaa, a scientist in the Kakamega forest, assisted me in obtaining this technical information.

Benson Akola harvested the palm and dracaena, split the stems lengthwise, and then wove the basket pictured. The basket is started with two crossed bundles of four paired stakes or warps each, with an overlaid third bundle of 2 and three paired stakes, thus creating the odd number of stakes. The stakes in this basket are split dracaena stems. The weavers are then woven in a simple under over pattern. New weavers are usually tucked within a given group of stakes, a neat and secure beginning and ending of each weaver that is not visible to the untrained eye. Benson introduced alternate rows of palm into the sides of the basket. A third stake is inserted into each of the paired stakes before the bottom of the basket is finished. The third stake helps to widen the basket as well as give it strength. The bottom of the Luhya basket is traditionally convex, a feature that is used to the advantage of the woman carrying the basket on her head. The stakes are turned horizontally at the top edge of the basket, and woven together tightly with the Dombeya bark.
 
One sees quite a few adaptations to the traditional Luhya basket. The assorted baskets placed in front of Benson’s home show a few shapes. The bell shaped baskets rest over chicks, keeping them safe from hawks. The largest basket is for storage. The medium sized baskets are for carrying goods.
 
A basket adaptation I have seen on the market, as early as in 2000 when I arrived, is the insulated basket. This is an idea that has caught on with many local women. This cooking basket, bought from some Maasai women south of Nairobi is typical. The basket is first lined with foam, then a heavy plastic. An attractive cloth is then stitched through the layers, keeping the plastic and foam secure. The women then put a pot of hot, partially cooked food into this basket and cover it. The lid made of plastic covered foam, encased in cloth. The food then loses its heat slowly and cooks throughout the day. This cooking basket reduces the amount of time needed to cook the food over an active fire.

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