What are African Tonga Baskets? – Paulski Art

What are African Tonga Baskets?

Have you seen one of these African Tonga baskets up close? They’re really gorgeous, well-crafted, and eco-friendly!

Most people took a liking to these baskets because of those three features. To be honest, that’s more than enough for it to be considered as a worthy buy.

But if you prefer to dig deep, you’ll see that they go beyond the borders of aesthetics. They’re not only filled with a rich history; they also embody an ethnic group’s desire to achieve a sustainable livelihood and the fight to preserve a local heritage as well.

But out of all that, the most interesting feature of Tonga baskets is this: they’re empowered by spirits. More on this later.

First, let’s take a look at where these baskets came from and how they’re made.


African Tonga Basket Origin

Tonga baskets are probably the most famous of Zambia crafts. The baskets are masterfully woven by the Tonga women of Zambia.

The primary material used is ilala palm or mapokwe in Tonga — a tree that’s ubiquitous in Tonga. The women make the leaves pliable for weaving by boiling them. Tonga women only use natural dyes extracted from the roots and barks of trees to darken the leaves. Once the leaves are soft and dyed, they will be coiled in intricate patterns to make the basket sturdy.

Each basket takes about 2 weeks to make from start to finish — depending on how complex the design is. The designs have evolved throughout the years. To adapt to the taste of the modern consumer, the designs have become more elaborate and varied.

The amount of effort Tonga women put in each piece is definitely commendable, especially when it comes to making the complex patterns symmetrical. To do this, they carefully calculate the complex pattern prior to and during the weaving process.

While some of these Tonga baskets were created as birthday or wedding gifts for chiefs and kings, they’re traditionally made to perform agricultural functions. They are used as containers for carrying maize or sorghum. They’re used for winnowing grains after they have been thrashed as well.

African Basket Weaving


African Tonga Basket-Making Rituals

The rich culture of Africa is filled with fascinating rituals that are performed for specific purposes. There’s a coming-of-age ritual, marriage ritual, fertility rituals, and yes, even the creation of crafts are ritualized.

Tonga baskets are one of those crafts. In fact, the Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe associate the value of a Tonga basket with the ritual that has been performed while creating it. Part of the ritual is the blessing of the basket by a spirit or a muzimo.

The shift from age-old method of basket weaving to modern practices gave birth to the decline of this ritual. Some authentic Tonga baskets still go through these rituals; however, most don’t. Regardless, authentic Tonga baskets are still handcrafted with the same precision from the time they were invented.

Aren’t Tonga baskets fascinating? They’re truly a work of art with a magnificent background.

Do checkout our line of authentic Tonga baskets if you’re looking for one. We currently have 40+ gorgeous patterns that you can choose from.