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Posts from the ‘Africa’ Category

Guest Post: An Encounter with Basket Traditions in Zanzibar City

I am very happy to here share a guest post by Kurt Dewhurst and Marsha MacDowell of the Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing, Michigan, USA.

Traditions of handmade, woven basketry is alive and well in communities around the world. After attending the launch of the Alliance for African Partnerships organized by Michigan State University with African partners in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in July 2017, we decided to journey to the island of Zanzibar where we stayed in Stone Town. Stone Town (the old portion of what is also known as Zanzibar City) was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. It takes its name from the coral stone buildings of the 19th century that were constructed on the site of an old fishing village.

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Figure 1: A Vendor selling baskets, vegetables, and other items next to Emerson Spice Guest House

Immediately after disembarking from the ferry from Dar es Salaam, we found ourselves in a truly mesmerizing environment. Stone Town, perhaps best known for its contested colonial past and a legacy of being a major site for the slave trade in East Africa, is replete with tall houses of Arabic and Victorian-era architecture, women garbed in beautiful kanga textiles, and maze-like thoroughfares so narrow that pedestrians, bicyclists, and moped riders all work hard to avoid collisions. The sounds of muezzin making calls to prayer five times daily from the over fifty mosques in Stone Town create a memorable soundscape. The sounds and visuals create a unique cultural space where the convergence of historical influences of Arab, Persian, Indian, and European cultures can be readily glimpsed.

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Figure 2: The Malcolm X shop selling baskets, fez, clothing, and food

We found ourselves exploring alleyways filled with small stalls and stores catering to the tourist trade that carries the Stone Town economy today. As folklorists with a passion for seeking out locally made material culture and with a deep interest in basket traditions, we found ourselves drawn to the presence of new and old baskets that were being used functionally for a variety of purposes as well as being sold along with other crafts, paintings, and clothing. In many displays of items for sale, baskets were often carefully arranged to aesthetically appeal to customers.

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Figure 3: The Moto Women’s Craft Cooperative

We were pleased to find traditional Zanzibar baskets being sold in several tourist-oriented shops, and were especially pleased to find one shop–Moto Cooperative–that represented many examples of baskets made by women in a craft cooperative. The stated goal of the Moto (Swahili for “heat”) Cooperative is to support the development of the rural economy. The project aims to recover and sustain high quality traditional weaving and to seek out new markets locally and internationally to support the weavers and weaving families. The cooperative stresses that they are “empowering women, reviving a cultural heritage, and building sustainability.” Currently Moto has nine villages and 19 cooperatives with over 200 women (and some men) engaged in this effort.

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Figure 4: Display of baskets, hats, and purses at Moto Women’s Craft Cooperative

The baskets made in this cooperative are produced in the centuries-old ukili weaving tradition. Relying on soft palm fibers from mkindu and mvumo palm trees, the weavers seek to revive the tradition in the face of the growing replacement of traditional baskets by plastic bags and mass produced forms. They do this not only through weaving in traditional techniques and patterns but also by planting palm trees for future materials for their baskets. They use mostly natural dyes and, in a quest for sustainable resources, incorporate solar cookers to prepare the dyes.

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Figure 5: “Pointy cone-style” baskets at the Moto Women’s Craft Cooperative

It was wonderful to see the prevalence of large, open-weave bamboo working baskets being used by vendors in the fruit, spice, vegetable, and fish markets. In fact, we saw these rough-hewn, large, durable baskets in many sizes and shapes being used by individuals to carry almost any item – by hand, bike, or truck. We had seen similar kinds of working baskets in China, but made there primarily of bamboo. These baskets seem to have been made by flexible wooden fibers from local trees and they were woven and then tied off with strands of wood fiber. We learned that there was a place on the edge of Stone Town where most of these baskets were made and sold for local vendors or workers. We look forward to investigating that on a future trip We came away inspired to learn more and share our experience in the hopes that we might connect with others who know much more about the basket making traditions of Zanzibar.

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Figure 6: A work basket at rest in Stone Town

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Figure 7: A bicycle basket in Stone Town

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Figure 8: A basket of pineapples in Stone Town

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Figure 9: A motorbike basket in Stone Town

 

 

 

Some Baskets at Work in Zanzibar

Marsha MacDowell and Kurt Dewhurst kindly shared these photographs of work baskets in Zanzibar. The images were taken while they were visiting Tanzania as part of a large Michigan State University project. The photographs were taken in July 2017 in the historic Stone Town area and were manufactured just outside the historic district. Kurt took the photographs. See below.

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IU and MMWC in Ghana

IU President McRobbie’s recent trip to South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana has proven incredibly timely for projects coming to fruition at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The IU delegation began its trip with extensive consultations in South Africa and this linked up nicely with the Margaret Bourke-White exhibition that we opened today. In one of his many compelling stories from the trip, Ryan Piurek recounted the deep history of positive university involvement in South African partnerships and projects, concluding his story with reflections on the Bourke-White exhibition as a current collaboration, one that will see the exhibition travel to two South African venues.

House Painting in Ghana

The President’s trip is concluding with a visit to another African nation where IU has deep ties and a long history of collaboration–Ghana. At MMWC, we are very excited that the museum is also connecting with audiences, communities, collaborators, and research opportunities in Ghana. While the museum’s ties to Ghana and scholars of the nation are multiple, the story right now centers on the work of IU art history graduate student, and MMWC collaborator, Brittany Sheldon. With MMWC help, Brittany has developed an exhibition based on her research on traditional decoratively painted houses. The exhibition State of an Art: Contemporary Ghanaian Bambɔlse will be presented this fall at the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board. The exhibition features Sheldon’s photographs documenting the red, black, and white designs (bambɔlse) that adorn the earthen walls of houses in the Upper East Region in Ghana.

Brittany is in Ghana now and is documenting her continued studies on her blog. For details on the exhibition that she has worked with the MMWC to develop, see the museum’s website.

Congratulations to Brittany on her exhibition and good luck to her in her continued studies with Ghanaian artists and tradition bearers.

Bourke-White Exhibition Opening

Congratulations to exhibition curator Alex Lichtenstein on the very successful opening, this evening, of “Photos in Black and White: Margaret Bourke-White and the Dawn of Apartheid in South Africa.” More than 130 students, community members, photography enthusiasts, faculty members, Mathers Museum boosters, and Mellon Innovating International Research, Teaching and Collaboration (MIIRT) conference participants converged on the MMWC from 4 to 6 pm today to see, and learn from, Alex’s exhibition, to discuss South Africa, past and present, and to hear from Alex and two special guests from South Africa–Dudu Madonsela, Chief Curator at the Bensusan Museum of Photography in Johannesburg, and leading contemporary photographer Cedric Nunn. Thanks to everyone who participated in the opening and who lent support to the exhibition and its associated activities.

If you missed the opening, or just want to go further with it, you can check out the companion website, attend the upcoming symposium or film series, and, for the truly ambitious, see the exhibition when it travels to South Africa next year. The exhibition can, of course, be seen at the MMWC throughout the rest of 2013.

Exhibition Opening Reception | Photos in Black and White

Photos in Black and White: Margaret Bourke-White and the Dawn of Apartheid in South Africa opens this coming Friday at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures in Bloomington, Indiana. Everyone is welcome to attend the opening. Details on the opening and other events associated with the exhibition are shown below. Information can also be found on the MMWC website.

MBW Exhibition Invitation

An Inaugural Voyage for the IQ-Wall at MMWC with @lichtensmbw and the Freshmen of COLL-S 104

Detailed accounts of the MMWC’s partnership with University Information Technology Services and its Advanced Visualization Lab will come in time, but I cannot resist quickly sharing here this tweet from @MathersMuseum from earlier in the day.

The course kicking off the IQ-Wall era at MMWC is COLL-S 104, The Struggle for Civil Rights: Reacting to the Past, an Intensive Freshman Seminar taught by MMWC guest curator Alex Lichtenstein.

Unless you are social media adverse, you really should be following MMWC on Facebook and Twitter so that you can keep up with all that is happening at the museum. Thanks to everyone who is supporting the museum’s continued growth and development.

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