Cultural Artifact Analysis: The African Tribal Baskets
A cultural artifact is an item that can reveal the valuable information about the society that made or used it. An item can qualify as a cultural artifact, if it portrays evidence of either political, social or the religious organization of the specific people or community that it belongs. This essay will analyze the African tribal baskets. The baskets can be said to be cultural artifacts because, through their analysis, we can comprehend the cultural values that were linked to them and their use. We can learn that these baskets were of both economical and social importance to the communities that made them.
As a concept, the African tribal baskets is very wide because of the fact that the African continent is very large and hosts a variety of tribes and there were several tribal baskets, with each being linked to a specific tribe. Every basket was unique, characterizing a specific tribe or community. In this paper, I specifically analyze the Zulu basket which was famous in many parts of the world, including the U.S. The analysis will mainly address the art of making the basket, and how it relates to the culture of the Zulu people of South Africa.
As a good example of artifacts, the African tribal (Zulu) basket is currently found in most museums in South Africa. Despite the fact that the art of making the baskets is very ancient, there are still many places in South Africa that produces Zulu baskets.In fact, South Africa is well renowned for producing these tightly woven Zulu baskets which are actually made by hand. These handmade artifacts are a representation of true art forms. Not only are they beautiful, functional, decorative, but also a testament to the fine weaving skills. With the master Zulu weavers being published and collected worldwide, these artifacts are considered of excellent finesse.
The people who make the Zulu baskets consider them very important, The art of making these baskets has supported and facilitated many cooperative ventures among the African basket weavers. These baskets have generated a lot of important economic activity in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa with the province earning the name the garden province due to the value attached to the Zulu baskets. Some of the handcrafted baskets produced in the province have been preserved in museum as specimens. The shape, color, pattern, size, and weave pattern of each basket is different making it impossible to find two similar baskets, regardless of whether the same person or weaver makes them. Although the baskets may be compared to the Native American baskets, they stand out to be unique, and have greater values. As such, the art has become a vital aspect of the economic activity of these people.
The Zulu baskets are produced by the women from the Zulu tribe of the KwaZulu-Natal province and they weave the basket by hand using the natural raw materials, which are readily available within the area. Even though they engage in this economic activity, the Zulu women are still able to go on with their normal daily activities including planting the fields, collecting water, as well as attending to their children. As a matter of fact, the Zulu women proved to be successful in turning the activity of making the African baskets into a form of home industry which helped them to supplement their income. Moreover, there are women within this area that solely depend on the weaving baskets acts as the only source of income. Despite being a personal activity, weaving is usually regarded as a social activity in this area. The group of women engaging in the activity within this region collects, prepares materials, and weaves as a group while having talks and a goodtime together hence enhancing unity among them.
The history of the Zulu people in relation to the activity of basket weaving is not only interesting to look into, but can also help us to comprehend the whole knowledge in relation to the process of basket making among the Zulu people. The history of the Zulu people can be traced back up to the 14th and 15th centuries when they migrated and settled in South Africa from the north. In the 1800’s these people established themselves and became a very powerful community in South Africa. At the time, the men wove the baskets. Nevertheless, upon the arrival of the British, the men were taken to work in the mines, forcing the women to learn how to weave these traditional Zulu baskets. During this period, these baskets were mainly used as utilitarian containers and there were no designs of weaving.
In the 20th century, the trade of tin and iron were used in exchange of the traditional baskets resulting in the total loss of the weaving skills. Nonetheless, missionary Tjell later on created the Vukani workshop, where three old Zulu women still engaged in the art of weaving the tradition baskets and this is attributed to the survival of the industry to date. Despite this, the industry is no longer huge as it used to be because majority of the Zulu people rely on other forms of employment. The economy of the area where weaving was common is now dominated with the activity of crop cultivation, which is done by the women and the rearing of cattle that is done by men and boys. This has reduced weaving to a very small industry in the region.
Despite the slow diminishing of the African Zulu baskets among the Zulu people of South Africa, the industry is still part of an important history of this community. In fact, the weaving was highly significant during dowry payment because traditionally, a woman would weave the wedding basket, and include in the design the number of cows to be paid as the bride price. This makes the Zulu basket an important artifact of significant value among the Zulu people. It not only reminds us of the economic life of the Zulu people, but also gives us some information on the social life of these people. In addition, it also gives us sufficient information on the role played by the women in the Zulu people.
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