In Bolgatanga, the crafts center of Northern Ghana, basket-weaving has been a traditional skill passed down for generations. This intricate and withstanding practice has long used the land and its crops sustainably. In Ghana, the most prominent crop used for Handicrafts is Elephant Grass.
While the Bolgatanga basket has had many imitators in the past, the Ghanian weave remains unique and robust by its use of Elephant Grass, or “veta vera''. Imitation baskets made with seagrass cannot achieve the level of hardiness that the Elephant Grass does. This tropical straw grows along wet areas like river banks and swamps. The straw is harvested by hand, and then left to sun-dry in preparation for the weaving process.
The Bolgatanga basket has taken many forms over the years and has evolved in its design and technique. The original basket had no handles, and was a round, untrimmed sieve used for brewing an alcohol called pito, which remains a prominent drink in important social events.
Though regardless of its look, Elephant Grass used for Handicrafts has remained a vital economic and physical stability for the women of Ghana. Most of Ghana’s Handicraft products are made by mothers, often to help supplement their crop farming income in support of their families.
Now, a look into the fascinating process behind creating a Bolgatanga basket:
Important firstly are the splitting and twisting processes. Straws are first split in half by pulling each side apart into two equal strands. Then, straws are wetted and twisted to form tightly wound twists.
At this point in the process, there are many different shapes and sizes of Elephant Grass that are ready to be woven. The weaver now selects the relevant straw for each component of their basket. The straw is then dyed using natural dyes, with slightly different processes for different colors. After their straw is dyed, or left “natural”, Artisans begin weaving with the base, then up to the body, rim, and handle. Most round Bolgatanga baskets are a “double weave”, which achieves a stronger and more durable basket.
All in all, the process from the harvested, dry straw to a finished product takes 5 days to complete. One day for splitting and twisting, one day for untwisting and dyeing, and the final three days for weaving. What emerges is a stunning work of art, perfected in technique and style over countless generations.