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Posts from the ‘Tourism’ 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

 

 

 

People Love Tiny Baskets

When wearing my curator hat, I have seen how ubiquitous love of tiny baskets seems to be, at least among fans of hand made objects. While I am sure that some engineer is doing nano-scale weaving already, tiny-scale seems good enough for fans of Native American basketry. The best known heroes in this area are the basket weavers of California, particularly the Pomo with their amazing feather covered baskets, but the art of the tiny basket has also been pursued in the native South. This impulse is reflected in this Choctaw basket by “Sweeny Willis” that was collected by John Mann Goggin among the Choctaw residing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Ms. Willis’s name is spelled “Sweenie” elsewhere, such as in the records associated with pottery that she made that is in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.

This single weave river cane basket is currently referred to as #494 in the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

For a bit of theorizing, look below the fold.

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Pot Holders, Or William C. Sturtevant Collections Research, Day 1

I am in Washington at the start of a period of research studying the collection of objects gathered over much of the career of Smithsonian anthropologist William C. Sturtevant (1927-2007). (For background on W.C.S., see this biographical sketch that I posted to the Museum Anthropology weblog and this Washington Post obituary by WP staff writer Louie Estrada.)

While Dr. Sturtevant was long associated with the Smithsonian, his individual research collection grew and grew over the course of his career and was not accessioned into the holdings of the National Museum of Natural History until after his death in 2007. My work with the objects is an extension of the Southeastern Native American Collections Project (SNACP), but it also aims to assist the museum in the work of organizing and cataloging the Sturtevant Collection.

Today was mainly a get organized day, but I can share a glimpse of the objects that was looking at.

Dr. Sturteveant worked throughout his career on issues in Florida Seminole ethnography, linguistics, ethnology, and ethnohistory. He was always particularly interested in material culture and he went to considerable lengths to document the rich visual and material culture of the Seminole people living in my home state. (I first met Dr. Sturtevant while still an undergraduate when he attended a conference on Seminole folk art not far from my family home.)

It will take a very long time to sort out the details, but I began (metaphorically) unraveling the threads of his collection and its history with initial study of eight relatively simple objects–patchwork decorated pot holders made for sale to non-Seminole tourists by Seminole women during in the 1980s. In addition to their aesthetic richness and visual interest, such objects speak to the complex ways that the Seminole people have adapted to life in one of the most complex corners of North America. The Seminole engagement with tourism began in the early 20th century, it continued through the period represented by these pot holders, and it continues up to the present-era, in which the Seminole Tribe of Florida is the force behind a myriad of tourist destinations, including the global Hard Rock cafe and casino enterprise.

For four of the eight pot holders that I looked at today, I already know the name of the artist. A few of the as-yet artist-unidentified objects are pictured below. All objects are from the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History. I especially thank the department’s staff for hosting my research visit. Photographs shown here are my own quick and simple iPhone snapshots. (Better photographs can come later.)

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Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

(Above) Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole, Sturtevant Collection T162, Department of Anthropology, National Musuem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

(Above) Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole, Sturtevant Collection T111A, Department of Anthropology, National Musuem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

(Above) Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole, Sturtevant Collection T111B, Department of Anthropology, National Musuem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole

(Above) Patchwork Pot Holder, Florida Seminole, Sturtevant Collection T111C, Department of Anthropology, National Musuem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

I have a lot of data management work to accomplish before tomorrow, but I could not resist sharing this glimpse.

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