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The History of our Traditional African Baskets
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The History of our Traditional African Baskets

Our ever growing basket collection exists thanks to the dedication and passion that our co-founder, Bee Friedmann, has for woven goods and supporting the rural communities making them. Born and brought up in South Africa, Bee has travelled extensively across her home continent to build personal connections with our basket weavers in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana. We wanted to share with you a little about the differences between weaving styles in each country and how baskets help to support the wonderful women making them. Every basket has its own story to tell.


Kenyan Kiondo Baskets

Each one of our colourful ‘Kiondo’ baskets are hand woven using traditional techniques by groups of weavers based in the rural Kenyan plains. A beautiful area blooming with baobab trees, cows and villages, all dotted around the impressive, flat topped mountain.



The Kiondo basket is indigenous to the Kamba, Kikuyu and Taita communities of Kenya. The Kiondo basket's purpose varies from region to region but is typically utilitarian in nature.

For Agikuyu people, the origin and symbolism of the Kiondo has deep and powerful meanings. The spiral construction of the traditional Kiondo baskets is an ancient pattern which for the Agikuyu people represented the joining of the male and the female to create the self. The traditional art of Kiondo weaving was a skillful craft, passed down from mother to daughter for generations. 

In the Makueni region of Kenya, the tradition of weaving baskets started in the early 1930's. The women weaved baskets for shopping, carrying goods in the markets, storing food, spices and water, and giving as gifts at weddings. However, the main use for baskets was during the harvesting season to carry fruits and vegetables. Different patterns decorate the baskets to showcase the weaver’s skill, as well as for aesthetic purposes. 



Our Artisans

Living far off the beaten track about 4 hours drive from Mombasa in an area of extraordinary natural beauty, we have worked with many of the same groups of women weavers since 2009. 

Women are the main breadwinners in this region and income from basket weaving helps support them during droughts when subsistence farming goes into decline. The area is also rife with poaching and charcoal burning - both a lucrative form of income in an area where jobs are very scarce. Creating alternative revenue streams such as basket weaving helps conservation by decreasing the need for these harmful practices.

The money from the sale of baskets to AARVEN goes straight to each group and is divided fairly amongst the members so that older and slower weavers also benefit from the overall groups sales. 



Made from sisal (a type of Agave grown abundantly throughout Kenya) and natural dyes, our Kiondo baskets are strong and durable.

Traditionally, Kiondo baskets are made using indigenous fibers to the region in which they are made. These fibers may come from plant stems, shrubs, bark or banana leaves. The fibers are then manually harvested, spun, dyed, and woven into baskets. 

Many contemporary basket designs use colours and patterns that are non-traditional, such as minimalist designs or solid coloured baskets. 


Ghanaian Bolga Baskets

Travelling to Ghana in 2018 was a life long ambition of Bee's. We'd been working with groups here for some time but it was Bee's first time to meet them in person. Ghana has a rich weaving culture and in addition to the sturdy shopping and laundry style baskets we love this country for Bee was able to source beautiful fans and rattles made from the same reed that grows in abundance throughout Ghana.



Bolga baskets are distinct to the area of Bolgatanga Ghana which is in the far north of the country, right on the border with Burkina Faso. The main reason for basket weaving in this region is due to the poor fertility of the soil around Bolgatanga, making it unsuitable for extensive agricultural activities. The region also suffers from erratic rainfall patterns and harsh weather conditions, meaning they can only grow enough to sustain their families, leaving nothing to take to market. As a result of these circumstances, many of the women supplement their household incomes with handicraft activities such as basket weaving, leather work and pottery.

Traditionally, it is believed that bolga baskets were created by a man from the Zaare community in the Bolgatanga Municipality. The man popularly known as Ahinbinge  was a disabled person who created the basket after observing birds making their nests. He created his basket with no idea what it would be used for, but it transpired that bolga baskets were very useful as colanders to separate millet and water from the millet waste. The contemporary colourful baskets available today have been developed through extensive contact with foreign buyers over the years.



Our Artisans

Our woven Bolga baskets from Ghana are made by a talented group of women weavers based in the Upper East Region, under the Burkina Fasso border, known as the weaving capital of Ghana. The co-operative we have partnered with is led by Agana, who works closely with the weavers. 

Our co-founder, Bee, met Agana when she visited Ghana for the first time in 2018. She spent 5 days travelling around the rural, baobab filled plains with Agana and his brother Atillus, to establish a personal connection with all of the weaving groups we now work with.

Agana lives in Bolgatanga with his extended family. Like most local people he started school very late and found it hard to make a living. At 15 he learnt how to weave to support his family. Weaving is now his main source of income and he is so happy to be able to support other weavers as well.

Our continuous partnership with the incredible Ghanaian artisans ensures a consistent income for many families within the wonderful community. 



Designed by AARVEN and made to Fair Trade standards, our bolga basket bags are produced using natural materials. Made using the indigenous veta vera plant, also known as Elephant Grass. 

Locally known as Kinkanhe, the grass grows with broom-like flowers which are removed for weaving. The straw is cut leaving the roots in the soil to regenerate. The elephant grass is trimmed to even lengths and then dried. The strands are twisted to strengthen the grass. After twisting, the straw is untwisted and tied into bunches for dying. Afterward, the dyed straw is allowed dry so the weaving process can begin. The weaving process starts at the base and continues up to the rim.


Rwandan Basket Bowls

Whilst Rwanda is best known for their famous agaseke and inkangara baskets, featured on Rwanda's 5,000 Franc banknote, there is also a rich weaving tradition that expands beyond these ancient styles. Rwanda is well loved for it's colourful bowl baskets which look as good displayed on the wall as they do when used in a practical sense. 



In Rwanda, hand-woven baskets are traditionally given to commemorate significant life events such as weddings, births, and graduations as they are the result of hard work and love, sometimes taking many hours to complete each basket.

Rwanda is renowned for its beautiful traditional agaseke baskets, a specific style of basket with a tall lid, which have been used for generations for carrying and storing food, as well as for ceremonial purposes. The art of basket weaving has always been integral to Rwandan culture, but after the devastating 1994 civil war, the craft took on a whole new significance. 

Women who had lost husbands, sons, and brothers came together to weave baskets as a way of rebuilding their communities and promoting peace. A common motif across Rwandan basketry is a zig zag pattern, which is said to symbolise women holding hands. 

Today, Rwandan baskets of all shapes and sizes are sold around the world, providing income and empowerment to the women who make them, as well as serving as a symbol of hope and peace. The intricate designs and vibrant colours of traditional Rwandan baskets continues to be enjoyed by people all over the world, whilst also carrying a heart-warming message of resilience and unity.



Our Artisans 

The weavers we work with are all part of a community-based cooperative in Southern Rwanda, working to socially improve their livelihoods and to keep the art of weaving alive. Through the sharing of skills, artisans are trained in art and crafts, public health, basic sales, and communication techniques to meet the demands of the markets today. The group aims to "foster, develop and promote our handmade craft products while ensuring we use eco-friendly materials that can guarantee both sustainable markets and care for the environment."

These rural weaving communities are incredibly conscious of sustainability and the need to conserve our natural resources. All of the artisans ensure that baskets are made with eco-friendly materials which don’t harm the natural and environmental resources, the same raw materials needed for weaving their baskets.



The process of basket weaving begins with the weavers preparing the sisal reeds that are used to form the base of the baskets. Sisal is an abundant plant, native to Rwanda, that can be harvested again and again without the need to destroy the entire plant, making it incredibly sustainable. The weavers then take the dyed and dried fibres and use it as a yarn. This yarn is threaded onto needles and wrapped around the dried sisal base to create colourful baskets. The weaving process itself is very social, with women gathering together in groups to talk and work at the same time. The traditional craft is also handed down from generation to generation and holds a great cultural significance. 


Ugandan Pots and Bowls

Our Uganda Craft Collection basket dishes and pots are all hand woven using traditional natural dyes, sisal and raffia straw. They are amazingly strong and durable. No two are woven the same, so only one of each is available. The perfect unique and special gift or individual art piece.



Uganda has a rich and vibrant culture, and the art of basket weaving is steeped in history. The traditional practise of basket weaving is passed down from generation to generation, connecting the present to the past. Baskets are not only made for practical purposes in Uganda, but also as a way to preserve stories and culture. The intricate patterns woven into Ugandan baskets tell stories of their heritage. Each basket design holds a story of community, spirituality, and daily life. The patterns are not merely for aesthetic purposes, in fact they carry symbolic meanings that are passed down through generations. Common symbols include houses, birds and other animals. 

Beyond the cultural significance of these baskets, weaving also plays a crucial economic role for many people in Uganda. The beautifully handmade baskets are not only purchased locally but are also sought after by a global market. This not only provides a source of income for the artisans but also ensures the continued practice of this ancient craft.

Traditionally baskets are used to hold food (lined with a cloth) or to carry and store household items. Many of the Ugandan homesteads we visited also had them hung on the wall as decoration.



Our Artisans

Our co-founder Bee described Uganda as the most beautiful country she's ever had the pleasure of travelling to. Here in a rural village she met with Ruth, the head of a group of incredibly creative weavers. Using a wrapping technique similar to that of neighbouring country, Rwanda, the baskets from our Ugandan group are individual pieces of art. Topista is the lead talent within the co-operative and inspired by our crocodile rug came up with her own crocodile basket in response.

In Uganda Baskets are made out of traditional fibres, sourced locally. Baskets are made at home in between household chores, subsistence farming and looking after children.  The income from weaving enables people to uplift their lives and goes towards paying for education and food. We have two types at the moment but both are ‘coiled baskets’. The thinner coiled baskets are made by a collective started in 2005 with 146 members by a very enterprising lady called Kellen who is still in charge of the collective.

Bee visited several different groups during her trip, each making baskets slightly differently from one other.  The baskets and tassels that you see on our website are all ones that she bought directly from the groups she visited and now we are working with a few of the weavers to produce specific designs for us. Ruth is helping us as she is very invested in uplifting her community.



The thicker coiled baskets are made out of raffia wrapped and stitched around a coil of dried grass and banana leaf stems.  The raffia is dyed and a sharp metal tool is used to aid the wrapping.  

The thinner coiled baskets are also made by wrapping raffia around a central coil but in this case the coil is made out of millet straw, which forms a much more delicate coil.  All the materials are sourced locally and the dyes are all natural colours derived from local vegetation. 

Weaving is a long process and it takes around 2 – 3 days to weave a 12-14” basket.  This is on top of harvesting, preparing and dying the materials.  Banana trees and raffia palms grow in abundance around villages and homesteads.



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