The history and origins of Ghana Bolga baskets
Bolga baskets have their origins in Bolgatanga, a village in Ghana’s Upper East region. The Frafra people, an indigenous tribe and the main ethnic group in Bolgatanga, are known for weaving these highly coveted baskets. The tradition has been passed down the generations and has become an important part of the country’s culture and heritage.
With the village located roughly 20 miles south of the Burkina Faso border, near the Sahara Desert, erratic weather and dry soil conditions make the area unfit for extensive farming and agricultural production. Locals support their families through leather work, pottery, and of course, basket weaving.
The process of weaving Bolga baskets requires extensive skill and training. It usually takes the most skilled weaver about three days on average to make a single medium-sized basket.
Traditionally, Bolga baskets were used as colanders or strainers for separating millet (a type of cereal crop) and water from millet waste. Today, these colourful, hand-woven baskets are in high demand among buyers who appreciate the time and skill that goes into these items.
How traditional Ghana Bolga baskets are made
To start, artisans will gather the grass needed to make the basket. Each Bolga basket is made with 100% natural and locally sourced materials, and takes a significant amount of dried elephant grass to complete.
Traditional Bolga baskets are made from Veta Vera or Kinhanhe grass, more commonly known as dried elephant grass, which is a commercial product sourced from Kumasi, a city located roughly 500 kilometers south of Bolgatanga. The top of each grass stalk has broom-like flowers, which are gathered, dried, and trimmed to even lengths.
- After gathering a sufficient amount of dried elephant grass, the artisan will soak them in water then split each strand in half so that the material becomes more flexible and therefore to work with. This painstaking process involves splitting each strand using the hands or teeth.
- Next, the split strands are twisted or rolled together by hand to strengthen the material. The wavy texture also makes the strands easier to work with. The strands are then untwisted and braided for dying, giving each basket a distinctive design and colourway.
Because dried elephant grass is a neutral shade, brightly coloured Bolga baskets get their vibrant quality from natural dyes and pigments. Dye is often mixed in boiling water. The strands are left to soak in the mixture until the desired colour is achieved.
- After waiting for the dyed strands to dry, the artisan can start weaving. This is the most labour-intensive part of the process, requiring both skill and patience. Weavers usually begin at the base before working their way up to the rim. They continue weaving until the finishing touches are added.
- At the end of the weaving process, handles, straps, or other embellishments are usually added. Because it is made by hand, each basket will have a unique pattern, shape, and size upon completion.
A regular 16-inch Bolga basket will have over 25,000 knots once finished. It also takes artisans about 2 to 4 days to weave each basket by hand, not including prep work. From start to finish, the process of creating a Bolga basket can take up to a full week depending on size, shape, and design.
Traditionals crafts in a modern industry
Basket weaving has helped artisans in and around town create an income for themselves and their families, providing employment to over 10,000 artisans, most of whom are women. The demand for these baskets has also given Ghanians a practical reason to ensure that the traditional basket weaving techniques get passed down from one generation to the next.
Traditional basket weaving contributes approximately 20% to Ghana’s export trade, with the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and New Zealand as the key markets. Consumers in Canada and Denmark also help drive demand for these beautiful baskets. In 2017, the country exported an estimated USD $800,000 worth of woven baskets. By 2023, Ghana plans to double its basket exports for the international market.
Tips for decorating with Ghana Bolga baskets
Keep fresh fruit and bread on the counter. The bright colours of Bolga baskets make them a perfect match for tropical fruit. Place your Bolga basket on the dining table or kitchen counter and use it as a fruit basket.
Use as plant holders. Use smaller Bolga baskets to display succulents or air plants. Line a few small baskets in a row over your kitchen sink or work desk to add a burst of colour and texture to sterile spaces.
Use as wall art. If you want to incorporate global boho decor into your home, hang Bolga baskets on the walls and make a wonderful gallery above your sofa or across the main hall. Nothing says global chic like a well-curated wall of Bolga baskets.
Place on indoor and outdoor buffet tables. Depending on their size and shape, Bolga baskets can be placed at indoor and outdoor buffet tables. These baskets can hold flatware, dishes, napkins, and bread and fresh fruit. They can also be used to hold freshly cut flowers to add a pop of colour to your buffet table.
Store craft supplies. Keep your craft supplies handy and organised by storing them in Bolga baskets. These stunning baskets can keep your supplies within reach and on display.
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