Weaving Zulu Copper Beaded Baskets in South Africa

About Msinga

This weaving group is located in the Msinga district of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, right in the heart of Zululand. It is some of the most arid land in the country, which makes it extremely challenging to subsist. For example, running water in communal faucets just arrived in mid-2010 to the villages where the weavers live.

The People

Over 99% of the people in this area are Zulu who live true to their cultural traditions. Due to the remoteness, scarce population, and challenging rocky terrain in this area, fully one-third of the economy of the Msinga district comes from grassroots home based businesses such as farming and basket weaving. 

A Fair Trade basket weaving project like this one is a perfect opportunity for the women in the area to support themselves and their families.

Basket Creation

Weavers use a very fine gauge copper wire strung with beautiful glass beads. Since fine gauge wire is used so that it fits through the holes in the beads, the thin wire makes the baskets more time consuming to create. These weavers have a great sense of color and strive to use perfectly complementing beads. 

Baskets are woven over a form, sometimes that form is even a piece of traditional Zulu pottery. Because the forms themselves are sometimes handmade pottery, there are unique variations in shape and size of each basket. 

No one knows the exact origins of Zulu wire weaving, but it is common knowledge that Zulu security guards in the cities have, and still do, practice this art of weaving.

Evidence suggests that Zulu people may have been making indigenous wire up to 1,000 years ago.

About Copper

Because the copper used in weaving these baskets is pure, it is quite soft. It is also a valuable, expensive resource – prices increased 500% from 1999 until reaching an all time high in 2006. Over 80% of all copper mined in human history is still in use – a testament to its recyclability. 

Recently, these weavers have woven in copper, sterling silver, and 18 carat gold for commissioned baskets and overseas art exhibitions.

About South Africa

The Republic of South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa. With over 59 million people, it is the most populous country located entirely south of the equator.

South Africa is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. About 80% of South Africans are of Black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different languages. The remaining population consists of Africa’s largest communities of European, Asian, and multiracial ancestry.

At the time of European contact in the 15th century, the dominant ethnic group were Bantu-speaking peoples who had migrated from other parts of Africa about one thousand years before. The two major historic groups were the Xhosa and Zulu peoples. Colonization by the Dutch and later the British ended in the early 20th century, when a government controlled by the white minority (20% of the population) took power, eventually constructing an institutionalized system of strict racial segregation known as apartheid.

After a long and sometimes violent struggle by the African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, a negotiated settlement in 1994 transformed the country into a liberal democracy where all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation. South Africa is often referred to as the “rainbow nation” to describe the country’s multicultural diversity.

South Africa is a developing country and ranks 113th on the Human Development Index, the seventh-highest in Africa. It has been classified by the World Bank as a newly industrialized country, with the second-largest economy in Africa, and the 33rd-largest in the world.

However, crime, poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about a quarter of the population unemployed and living on less than US$1.25 a day. Moreover, climate change is an important issue for South Africa: it is a major contributor to climate change as the 14th largest emitter of greenhouse gases as of 2018 (in large part due to its coal industry), and is vulnerable to many of its impacts, because of its water-insecure environment and vulnerable communities.

Source: Wikipedia

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Zulu Copper Beaded Baskets