African Merchants

Hand- Crafted Baskets of Africa Take Time and Patience

Hand- crafted baskets from Southeast Africa take time and patience when ordering in large quantities, but the wait is certainly worth it.

In a quieter part of the world, one which is out of reach to the internet and the spinning worlds of social media and Amazon.com, where nothing is just a click away, but rather seasonal and controlled by the rains, is where villages lie under dozens of species of palm trees. It is here in Southeast Africa in Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa where many of the world’s baskets are woven into works of art and then distributed through the world to become household items that are as common as a laundry basket.

Satrana woven baskets. A specific weave endemic to Mozambique

When ordering satrana woven baskets and pouches, one can chose either natural or colour, from this one supplier, however, one can not chose the specific color. Papyrus supplies can sometimes be limited in villages and they get what they get in terms of coloured papyrus.

Satrana is a certain kind of weave specific to Mozambique. Baskets are commonly woven with the non-threathened papyrus grass. Recently I had a customer contact me, inquiring about lead times for this specific satrana woven basket. There are a handful of suppliers in Cape Town trading in baskets made in Mozambique and Madagascar. Headaches can be many when dealing with a world that is almost off the grid, yet produces some of the most beautiful handmade craft in all the world. Suppliers in Cape Town first need to pinpoint the crafters in the villages, establish that they are using non-threathened palms and then employ entire villages to meet heavy demands and big orders from the Western World. One really needs to appreciate that beautifully crafted things take time and patience, a lot of patience. Lead times for orders of 1000 can take up to 6 months in some instances.

Basket Handbags

These satrana woven pouches have strings attached and make a beautiful summer handbag. They retail between R250- R500.

One supplier decided to try to bridge the gap between long lead times and bigger orders. The supplier imported Raffia in rolls from Madagascar, to meet orders more efficiently and produce baskets locally in Cape Town using the traditional woven method. This way a supplier can have control over the process, not needing to worry about containers being shipped over the Indian Ocean, or rains causing delays in production. The raffia also becomes a more cost-effective way to ship as the weave is more pliable and can be compressed when packed, eliminating added air space and decreasing volume and therefore freight cost.

For more information on bulk ordering these beautiful baskets: availability and supplier cost and style comparisons please contact amyonajourney@gmail.com

 

MADWA, woven crafts Madagascar to Swaziland

MADWA, based in Cape Town, South Africa, is a social upliftment project working with artisans in Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. All woven crafts of Madagascar products are made using natural sustainable materials and each product is hand crafted by the traditional weavers empowering individuals and often times entire communities to use their craft skill to achieve economic stability and independence.

Madwa boasts a large range of products including baskets using papyrus, clutches and bags made of raffia and papyrus, bins, laundry baskets and large baskets made from umtsala, crocheted floor mats using grass, textiles of lambas: hand-woven, cotton throws and woolen blankets; all handmade locally using traditional craft.

My most favorite addition to the Madwa’s range are the raffia crocheted throw pillows with feather down inners. At 60 cm x 60 cm they make a perfect throw cushion, large enough to sit on and beautifully crafted for a sun-deck or porch.

Woven throw pillows madagascar

Raffia crocheted throw pillows

To request a catalogue and prices of Madwa’s current range please contact by email: amyonajourney@gmail.com

SILLAH, The African Trade Merchant

Sillah walks through his collections gathered across Africa laid out neatly for wholesale in Cape Town.

Sillah walks through his collections gathered across Africa laid out neatly for wholesale in Cape Town.

For months before I had met Bakary Sillah from the Gambia, I had heard of his legend. For he is legendary. How many men or women do you know that spend their lives traveling the African continent collecting tribal antiques and handmade craft from village to village throughout almost every country North of the Khalahari. He is rightly so a legend, but he s also a gentlemen with a true passion for his collections and knowledge that runs as deep as his ancestry. Although Sillah is originally from Gambia he now lives in Nigeria, though he is not at home very often. He travels mostly through West Africa: Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya buying all things traditional and exceptionally beautiful African. He excites the shores of South Africa with his treasures found only twice a year coming through Cape Town and Johannesburg for sometimes only a week at a time. If you catch him, you are lucky.

Yesterday I was lucky. Walking into Sillah’s showroom of sorts is a little overwhelming for a buyer, as there is just so much to see and so much of it is rare and beautiful. It is not what is typically found in the markets, but pieces that are attached to history or a tribe. African trade beads can be as old as two hundred years, Nupe stools from Nigeria could be up to 70 years old where upon many a soul have sat and discussed or done business. The Rwanda milk jugs have crossed villages for decades and the Mali jewelry boxes have not only held precious family beads but they have also acted as a protector for the women who have owned them. Even wooden beds collected in the Ivory Coast can be found at Sillah. These things have belonged to not only people, but to tribes and to history.

The entire floor of a second story old Victorian building in downtown Cape Town becomes a treasure trove of rare and traditional Africa craft for buyers twice a year for just one week. I ask Silah what he will do with everything once the week is through. He says usually there is nothing left.

The entire floor of a second story old Victorian building in downtown Cape Town becomes a treasure trove of rare and traditional Africa craft for buyers twice a year for just one week. I ask Silah what he will do with everything once the week is through. He says usually there is nothing left.

Sillah is the wholesale dealer to many established business owners  and designers in South Africa. While in his showroom yesterday, one of the buyers welcomed him back and gave him a hug while another on her way out laden with beads to make necklaces drove all the way from Kynsa (5 hour drive to Cape Town) to see him. For all that he has seen and all the wise people he has met he is humble and jolly and proud of his collections. After spending hours lost in the merchandise gathered from across the continent, Sillah shows me his most precious collection of beads. Chevron African Trade beads that cost R120,000/ $12,000 for one strand. When I ask him if he sells beads individually from the strand, he replies like any genuine collector would, No, he does not want to break the collection.

Sillah holds one of the baskets he collected in Ghana.

Sillah holds one of the baskets he collected in Ghana.