Our baskets are made by the BaTonga people living in the Binga District of Zimbabwe, Matabeleland, which is an isolated region bordered by the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba at the bottom of the Zambezi Encampment, which is the last crack of the Great African Rift Valley. It is hot and arid, home of the tsetse fly. The BaTonga people originally lived along the Zambezi river where the land was fertile and they had access to fresh water and fish. In 1956 the Kariba Dam was built, causing the Zambezi river to flood, creating Lake Kariba. After the flooding and formation of Lake Kariba, the BaTonga people were resettled to other parts of Binga District, many of them far from the lake. To this day, many people are still struggling to find clean water, suffering from drought and lack of food and going without electricity, despite the original promise of electricity through the building of the dam. The BaTonga are a minority group in Zimbabwe, comprising only about 5% of the population. They also inhabit the neighboring country of Zambia. In fact, many Tonga families were split up when the Zambezi River flooded the valley. Most families have no chance of contacting or reuniting with their families.
We have several of these baskets in various sizes on a wall intersperced with our African wildlife photos for a stunning display! Tonga baskets are made from the fronds of the ilala palm and dyed with the bark of the Berchemia discolour (Bird Plum) tree. Each basket has its own individual design created by the artisan. The patterns used are often symbolic of the local nature and daily life of the tribe. The basket making process is a lengthy one involving the cutting down, stripping into thin pieces, boiling and drying of ilala. The Berchemia is collected, pounded and boiled with the ilala to be dyed. The ilala is then dried and ready for use. It takes up to two weeks to make a single basket.