WEAVERS OF THE MONGU REGION
Mongu is a town in the Western Province of Zambia, located near the Angola-Zambia border. The majority of the inhabitants here are Mbunda speakers, and these robustly distinctive baskets are made by them. People frequently remark that they appear to be made of wood because they are so sturdy and rigid.
The Mbunda people came from Angola to this indigenous Lozi kingdom in the late 1700s. It is one of Zambia's most remote and poverty-stricken areas, lying on the Zambezi River flood plain. Basket weaving is these rural women's only method to augment their family income.
A PLANT LIKE NO OTHER
Makenge are scraggly plants that may be found near bodies of water throughout the Mongu region. They have long, shallow roots that the weavers can easily dig up from the sandy soil.
The last two-thirds of the root is removed, and at each chop, two new buds appear in its place. Because the roots may grow up to three feet per month, it is not harmful to the bushes and provides a long-term sustainable supply of weaving materials.
The roots are sliced and 'peeled,' the insides of the baskets are utilized in the basket coils, while the outside portion is split into fibers that can be wrapped around the coils. The baskets may have a higher or lower sheen to them depending on when the roots are harvested during the rainy season.
THE MAKING PROCESS OF A MAKENGE BASKET
The plant is dug up on the first day, and the fibers are prepared over the next three days. Another day is devoted to dying. The colors are derived from roots or leaves that have been boiled in Makenge with the yarn. After drying for at least a day, the fibers are re-wet as women spend several more days weaving each basket. The final result is a unique and durable piece of basket that is sure to last the test of time.