Lozi or Barotse Basket

Central East Africa, North-West Zambia

Circa 1900

Height 6 cm (2.5 in)
Width 13 cm (5.25 in)

Lozi baskets are traditionally woven in two colours, black and natural, typically with different areas having differing patterns, most commonly an arrangement of zig-zags and triangles. They are made from the roots of the makenge bush using a spiral coiling and weaving technique which results in a very rigid and durable basket.

Basketry was essential to everyday life, with containers being used for gathering and storing food as well as for personal items. They would be given to a bride by her husband’s family and because the baskets required skill and were time consuming to make they would often be repaired and sometimes even passed on to children.

The Makenge bush grows to nine or 10 feet and sends out long shallow roots which are carefully harvested by the men to ensure the supply for future generations. They are skinned to remove the outer layer and then boiled and dyed with natural plant pigments. When dry they are woven by the women; the whole process taking many weeks or even months.

The Lozi people of the Zambezi River floodplain have traditionally moved to higher ground every year  for the duration of the flood.  With the constraints of this yearly migration, it is through their easily portable, practical, light weight and beautifully crafted baskets that this community have for hundreds of years found their artistic expression.

In 1885 litunga (king) Lubosi brought together the peoples and territories of the Zambezi River floodplain and successfully negotiated with the British South African Company to establish Barotseland as a British Protectorate. His reign which ended in 1916 is remembered as a golden era for Lozi culture earning him the praise name “Lewanika” It was during this time that Christian missionaries were the most active and “Barotse” basket work came to be known in Europe and the United States.

Museum Collections:
Probably the largest museum collection of between 40 and 50 baskets was acquired by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in 1907

Bibliography:
Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History Vol.II, part III Notes Concerning New Collections edited by Clark Wissler pub. New York by order of the Trustees April, 1909 page 51 and illus. page 353 plate XXI
The Douglas African Collection Clark Wissler, American Museum Journal Vol. 7 1907
Art/Artefact, Exhibition catalogue 1988 pub. The Center for African Art New York
African Forms Marc Ginzberg pub. Skira, Italy 2000 p.109
African Furniture and Household Objects Roy Sieber pub. 1980 Indiana University Press in Association with the American Federation of Arts

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