The tradition of weaving baskets in Makueni region in Kenya started in the early 1930's. The women weaved baskets for various uses, such as shopping, carrying goods in the markets, storing food, spices and water, and giving as gifts at weddings. However, the main use for baskets was during the harvesting season to carry fruits and vegetables.
The technique a basket-maker choosed depended of the purpose of the basket. The ones used for storing water included clay to prevent the water from draining: they were first woven, then coated with clay in the inside and finally left to dry. The weavers used different materials, such as dried palm and banana leaves, african bamboo, wool and sisal fiber. Bigger baskets were used to the harvest and storage of food and water, while the smaller ones were used to carry goods and to give as gifts. Different colourful patterns were also added, both in order to show that the weaver was skilled and to decorate the basket beautifully.
The tradition still exists in Makueni, where most weavers have learnt the skill from their mothers and grandmothers. Besides using the baskets for shopping and harvesting, they now also sell them at markets. The technique of weaving has changed in terms of size, shape and materials. Most women find the Mifuko patterns and design very different from what they were used to: sometimes they wonder about how simple the scandinavian style is and they have been surprised about why someone would want a black coloured basket in their home. Also, the traditional baskets didn’t have leather handles like in the Mifuko baskets, but sisal straps as handles.
Kenyan handicraft skills now get to travel the world, since Mifuko baskets are sold in over 30 countries. Having a market for the baskets is important, because without customers and earnings from the baskets, the weaving skill fades away and isn’t taught to the next generation.