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Tutsi basket, Rwanda and Burundi

12 1/2 inch (33 cm)
Early 20th century
ex private Belgium collection

A very nice, tightly woven old Tutsi basket with an interesting design pattern that spirals around the basket.


"Among the Tutsi elite, basketry-related tasks were gender-specific. Men were responsible for building dwellings, granaries, fences, and other large-scale
fiber-based structures. Women created more refined woven artifacts, such as the floor mats, baskets, and wall panels. Basketry weaving was a communal
activity which occurred during recreational evening gatherings. Accompanied by the sound of music performed by a Tutsi harpist, women dedicated their
time to embroidery and bead-making as well as basketry. Decorative architectural elements such as woven basketry "tapestries," space dividers, and mats
were created on such occasions. They filled Tutsi domestic interiors, covering them from floor to ceiling and creating a visually vibrant arrangement of
contrasting black and white patterns. Finely woven miniature baskets featured similar variations of decorative patterns alternating black and red dye with
the natural gold fiber. Such intimate sized baskets were made primarily to be offered as gifts and had no common usage beside storage of precious
objects such as the pipe of the master of the house, beads, or amulets.

To create the characteristic geometric patterns that graphically decorated these fibers, Tutsi basketry makers artfully balanced natural black and red
pigments with the natural pale gold of the grass. Black dye was derived from the black sap obtained from boiling banana flowers. The red dye was similarly
extracted from the root and seeds of the urukamgi plant. Works created after the 1930s often present a wider range of colors from dyes acquired through
importation." - Yaëlle Biro (Metropolitan Museum of Art)