Basket weaving is a long-held tradition in Rwanda. They are intricate works of art which take days to complete. As one of our goals is to provide jobs to women entangled in Survival Sex Work, Hagari saw the opportunity to access fair trade markets and began working with a group of women in 2015 to train them into artisans. We work with the artisans to help them improve their talent, advising on designs and colors and securing markets for their handiwork to be sold.
The beautiful trivets and baskets that our ladies make take skill and patience to transform the raw materials into these wonderful works of art. Historically, weaving baskets has always been part of the culture, but now instead of making bowls to carry garden produce they make them to share their culture with you.
Baskets are made from two parts: the inner part which is made from local dried grass and the outer colorful part, the sisal, which is made from a plant called Imigwegwe (emmy gway gway). But before it becomes part of the weave it has to go through many steps.
The Imigwegwe plant looks like a type of cactus plant or overgrown aloe vera. It is grown all over Rwanda and is used to make fiber for ropes, the fantastic headwear local Rwandan men wear when dancing, as well as a type of soap. But now the primary use is in crafts and it is grown as a cash crop.
The leaves are heavy and coated in a thick outer coating. They must be cut and sawed from the plant. Then, to get the fiber from the Imigwegwe plant, there are two methods which can be used: to bash the leaves with a stick or metal bar leaving the fibers in a mess, or to use the method of our weavers, slicing the leaves into strips with a machete, and then using the back of the knife to strip the pulp away.
As the pulp is stripped away, the clean white fibers start to shine through, and after a final wash and clean they are ready to hang and dry in the gentle Rwandan breeze. These clean fibers are now ready for the next stage.
To color the fiber, or sisal, small parcels of powdered dyes are mixed with boiling water. The sisal is mixed with the boiling hot dye and then hung out to dry.
Now that all the parts are created, it is time to start to craft the baskets. This process can take between 2 and 8 days to make one basket, depending on the size and complexity of the design. This is where our artisans craft their skills and their amazing abilities come to the fore.
Small pieces of grass are bundled together and the colored sizal is wrapped around the grass bundle. As the spiral grows more grass is added and the shape and patterns are formed. The end result is a gorgeous, handcrafted, fair trade work of art that provides income and pride to the artisan.