Bolga baskets make cool wedding gifts because they are not only functional but can also serve as decorative pieces. These handmade African baskets are all unique and I bet they won’t be on a standard wedding gift registry.
And now for some history of the significance of these precious baskets.
Bolga baskets are named for the Bolgatanga village located in the Bolga region of northern Ghana where they are made. An indigenous tribe of Ghana, the Frafra people weave and create these now highly sought-after baskets.
Over many centuries, the Frafra people passed down, and continue to pass down, the traditional weaving skills to subsequent generations. Largely because unfavorable weather conditions, erratic rainfall and infertile soil discouraged the people from pursuing their livelihood through agriculture so in its place, craft works such as leatherwork, pottery and basket weaving became the ways that the Frafra people could sustain their households.
These bolga baskets are made from an indigenous, very tall grass that is known as veta vera grass or more commonly “elephant grass”, a favorite food for elephants to forage… hence the name.
The basket-making process requires great practice and skill, as well as serious training before the artisans become weaving experts. On average, it takes about three days to make one medium-sized basket for the most skilled weaver. Although I know I can never fully describe how to make these beautiful baskets, in a nutshell here is how these ladies (and others) make them and what goes into making one of them:
- Using straw from the top stalk of the elephant grass, the weaver bites through each stalk to split it vertically in half.
- Rolled against the weaver’s leg, each piece of straw is twisted tightly until it forms a strong strand.
- The strands are then dyed using a variety of different colors, thus giving the baskets their unique and vibrant color combinations. They are tied in bunches, and then dyed again in boiling water. If the strands will be a bright color, they are dyed yellow first in order to enhance and bring out the next color used to dye the straw.
- Because they will serve different purposes, each part of the basket – i.e. the sides, base and handle – needs special straw, which is selected after the straw has gone through the dying process.
- Since the base is the foundation on which the basket will sit, the weavers start the weaving at the base and work upwards. The basket is finished with a specially woven rim.
- You will notice that the handles don’t necessarily “match” the body of the baskets, that’s because the handles of the bolga baskets can all be different, but are made with a special technique to keep them sturdy and capable of handling heavy loads.
- For the final finishing touches, the basket weaver trims the finished basket removing any remaining pieces of straw which may be straggling or sticking out.
With all the effort that goes into making these baskets, and despite the labor-intensive process of creating each individual basket, the baskets are sold at reasonable and affordable prices.
Bolga baskets are colorful, sturdy and functional, making them a much sought-after commodity for their unique shape. Everyone benefits from the sale of the woven products. Not only are the weavers are able to support their families with the proceeds of the sales, but the new couple will also get a well-made, durable, one of a kind basket for a wedding gift at a reasonable cost to you.