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Shop for Zulu Ilala Palm Baskets | South Africa Information

South Africa, Zululand

Ilala Palm Baskets

The PeopleZulu Ilala Palm Basket Weavers

Each Zulu basket is lovingly handcrafted in the northeast coastal area of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. All-natural fibers, materials and dyes are used to construct these unique treasures. Most of the people in this region are subsistence farmers living in their traditional Kraals, an area fenced in by piles of sticks that contain traditional huts.

The age-old tradition of basket weaving is usually passed down from grandmother to granddaughter. This helps to preserve Zulu culture as the grandmothers have the opportunity to recite oral history and stories to the younger generations as they all weave together.

Creation Process

Ilala palm fronds are collected, pulled into strips, naturally dyed using mud, flowers, charcoal, bark, roots and other found materials and then hung to dry as the traditional Zulu women prepare their materials for basket-weaving. The palm fronds have a natural waxy coating which makes them ideal for the weaving of watertight baskets.

Different patterns in the baskets also carry different meanings. The larger baskets are traditionally woven by the

bride-to-be or given to the new couple as wedding gifts. During the wedding the baskets will be used to hold ceremonial beer. Prior to its first use, the basket's pores are closed from the inside with a paste of coarsely-ground corn. The more elaborate designs and intricately- patterned baskets denote the relative wealth and power of the family. An elaborate, medium-sized basket may take 30 days to weave while very large baskets can take more than year.

Depending on the type of lid they have, the larger, liquid tight baskets are referred to as Ukhambas (lid fits inside the top) or Isichumo (lid fits over the top). Smaller baskets with lids or Iquthu often have a looser weave and are traditionally used to store medicinal herbs.

Pattern Meanings

Checkerboards, Whirls or Circles - good news, new baby, good rains

Triangle - masculine symbol

Diamond - feminine Zig-Zag - represents spear of Shaka

Series of Diamonds - shields of Shaka

Diamond with triangle points - Wedding basket

Zulu Ilala Palm Baskets

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