Traditional Basketry

Artful images on Namibian stamps depict the country’s colourful plant and animal life, traditional cultures, history and landmark events. Many people are unfamiliar with Namibia—until they visit on our motorcycle safaris and fall in love with it.

Here we explore the history of stamps commemorating Traditional Basketry.

stamp collecting bag kxoe web

Since the emergence of hunter-gatherers, humans have needed help carrying what they’ve foraged. Using whatever resources were available, baskets emerged as a transportation aid. Over centuries, they evolved in design, artistry, and usefulness, often influenced by neighbouring tribes. Strongly linked to agricultural customs, regional styles can be identified by their means of construction, the materials used to create them, and their purpose.

The art of basketry almost became a lost art due to the popularity of Tupperware and plastic bags. Fortunately, through a concentrated effort, the tradition has made a comeback. Skilled artisans now sell their crafts to tourists as a means of generating income to support their households. Sadly, not all knowledge has survived and the old basket styles can only be viewed in museum collections.

The stamps on this page depict examples of baskets made by two tribes from different regions of Namibia—the Khwe Collecting Bag and the AaWambo Fruit Basket.

Khwe women made flat winnowing trays, cone-shaped pópò-baskets, and bag-shaped baskets using bundles of strong grass stalks and palm leaves. Leaves were soaked in warm water to make them malleable before weaving. Sometimes they were coloured by boiling them with the pounded bark of the brown ivory tree. Handles were always made of skin or fibre. These types of baskets were used for collecting wild fruit and berries.

stamp owambo fruit basket - johan van niekerk 1997 webWhile design, raw materials, and purpose varied by region and thus by tribe, there were commonalities. “Women made all baskets, which formerly ranged from winnowing trays, flour and millet baskets, lidded baskets for dry food or personal belongings, fish baskets, chicken baskets and small power baskets, to name but a few. Men are responsible for making mats, fishing traps, beet strainers, modern style hats and grain storage bins.’[1]

Baskets were generally quite large and shaped so women could use them to carry goods on their head. Special techniques produced extra strongly woven baskets, used to carry salt or iron. Men would carry two or more of these baskets on a pole over their shoulders.

The weaving didn’t stop with baskets. It was also used to make funnel-shaped fishing traps, beer strainers, hats, mats, and grain storage bins that were plastered inside with clay to make them airtight. Traditionally, barks, fruit, and roots were used to produce a variety of dyes to colour the baskets. Today, they’re coloured with commercial ink.

Learn more about traditional and contemporary basket weaving in Namibia here.  Watch for them on your next trip to Namibia!

Source: Stamps and Stories, Vol. 1, 50 Stories on Namibia’s Postal Stamps, Gondwana Collection Namibia, & NamPost, 2012

[1] Stamps and Stories, P. 82