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Importance of sisal baskets and products to communities in Africa

kenyan sisal plant, sisal baskets

Sisal has economic and cultural significance in communities across east Africa. In Swahili its called Mkonge. Sisal is grown in eastern part of Kenya and coastal region. 

Before introduction of currency in Africa, sisal and sisal products were used as a means of exchange during  batter trade while trading with other communities along east Africa.

In African communities Women are the sole weavers of baskets, the art of basket weaving is passed on from mother to daughter, one generation to another. Little Girls learn the skills  by watching their mothers from a tender age after which they start  making sisal ropes. As they grow so does their skill, andAnd women who can’t weave are considered not fit for marriage.

Sisal is also woven into colorful costumes that traditional dancers perform in during cultural ceremonies. 

During wedding ceremonies, the bride  is presented with sisal baskets filled with food by respected and older women from the grooms family. she is expected to take it every morning when she goes to work on her family’s farm and come back with it full so as to keep  her family well fed.

Gifting of sisal baskets during wedding ceremonies played a major role in keeping families together, making divorce cases rare, this is because before the woman leaves  her matrimonial home, she was expected to take back the basket to the person who gifted them. This will entail them explaining why they are leaving and the family will help solve the grievances in the marriage beside it goes further.

Sisal is harvested in a way that is not harmful to the entire plant. Fibre is extracted by a process known as decortication, where leaves are crushed, beaten, and brushed away by a rotating wheel set with blunt knives, so that only fibres remain, after which  water is used to wash away the waste parts of the leaf.

The fibre is then dried and brushed Proper drying is important as fibre quality depends largely on moisture content.  It’s then dyed and sun dried. 

Sisal products are known for their strength, durability, ability to stretch, affinity for certain dyestuffs, and resistance to deterioration in saltwater.

Sisal is a valuable forage for honey bees because of its long flowering period. It is particularly attractive to them during pollen shortage. The honey produced is however dark and has a strong and unpleasant flavour

img_6942-1Traditional dancers adorned in colorful shashay sisal skirts

kenyan sisal plant, sisal basketsSisal plantations

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