In the southern region of Zambia, hundreds of traditional village weavers make a variety of natural fiber baskets. The weavers are all subsistence farmers. They work in their fields during the cool mornings and weave baskets in the afternoon and evenings to escape the heat.
A variety of baskets styles are created in different areas of Southern Zambia. These baskets are rustically woven and rooted in Tonga culture. All baskets are colored with natural vegetable dyes, or use no dyes at all, relying instead on natural contrasts in the weaving materials. Each type of basket is named according to the area from which it originates. Striking patterns are unique to each style of basket.
These are the most commonly known Tonga baskets, traditionally used for winnowing grain. They have a heavy coiled rim and are woven of tiny vines or ‘creepers’ with palm leaves in an over and under ‘simple’ weave style.
This style is similar in materials to the plateau style, but they have a second coil of vines on the back of the basket. This makes the basket double thick, almost like one basket woven on top of another. They are very stiff and strong bowl shapes with patterns that are distinctly different from other styles of Tonga baskets. They are woven in deep or shallow bowls.
These baskets are coil woven over grass, which is a big difference from other Tonga baskets. They are rustic looking with thick sturdy walls. Sinazeze baskets are normally created with simple block patterns.
Your purchase of Tonga baskets allows weavers in Zambia to maintain their culture and traditions on their lands as subsistence farmers. The income they receive helps them send their children to school and to significantly improve their lives.
Zambia is a landlocked country in South-Central Africa. The nation’s population of around 19.5 million is concentrated mainly around the capital Lusaka in the south and the Copperbelt Province to the north, the core economic hubs of the country. The country has a tropical climate, and consists mostly of high plateaus with some hills and mountains and broad river valleys.
Originally inhabited by Khoisan peoples, the Bantu people, including the Tonga, migrated to the region starting around 1000 CE. The British colonized the region in the late 19th century, calling it Northern Rhodesia. The Republic of Zambia achieved independence in 1964.
Zambia is racially and ethnically diverse, with 73 distinct ethnic groups. The nine main ethnolinguistic groups are the Nyanja-Chewa, Bemba, Tonga, Tumbuka, Lunda, Luvale, Kaonde, Nkoya and Lozi. Zambia is officially a “Christian nation” under the 1996 constitution, but recognizes and protects freedom of religion. While fewer than 3% of the population still observe indigenous faiths, Zambian Christianity is highly syncretic, and many self-identified Christians blend elements of traditional African religion with their faith.
In 2015, about 54% of Zambians lived below the recognized national poverty line of ZMK 214 (USD 12.85) per month. Rural poverty rates were about 77% and urban rates at about 23%. Unemployment and underemployment in urban areas are serious problems. Most rural Zambians are subsistence farmers.
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