Tuesday, December 12, 2017

 Rendille Camel-milking Baskets from Northern Kenya

Rendille camel-milking baskets are coiled, made from the leaf blades of doum palm, Hyphaene compressa. The basket core of palm leaves is almost completely covered by the thin section of leaf blade (the weaver) that is not only wrapped around the new core, but also is inserted approximately half way through the previously wrapped core. These very snug wrapping make a very tight weave. The placement of the each wrapping of the coil usually occurs almost directly above the insertion of the weaver of the previous row. This placement precision results in vertical chevron ridges that run up the outside edge of the basket. Once the basket has reached the desired size, a double ridge of wild sisal, Sanseveria robusta, is usually into the upper edge of the basket. Often a piece of twisted or braided sisal is left for a handle.
 
In the area of Ngurunit, Kenya, members of Rendille and Samburu tribes have intermarried and there is some blending of culture and basketry. Due to the increase and easy availability of plastic containers, the basketry weaving had greatly declined. In 2000, approximately 10 old women were still weaving the traditional their baskets. The very tightly woven Rendille camel milking basket, described above, is conical in appearance with extremely tight stitches. The Samburu basket, also coiled and woven in a similar manner, is more loosely woven, flatter bottomed, often decorated and used for storage of personal items.
 
Through major efforts of Laura Lemunyete, the traditional basketry techniques have been passed down to the younger women, now numbering approximately 280 women. These younger women have adapted the shape of their baskets to meet the tourist and international market, making it worth their time to learn how to weave. Since the women are only paid for baskets woven, the younger weavers have created their personalized beading design styles as well as developed additional decorative basketry stitches, new basket sizes and even square shaped baskets. When these baskets reach Nairobi, more often than not, they are flat bottomed, tightly woven, and uniquely decorated with beads and sometimes with seeds.

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