This blog was originally posted on March 1 2022 and copied to our new site on 8 April 2023.
All our woven basket products at Ashanti Design are created in the beautiful country of Malawi. We have built up long standing relationships with our facilitators, partners and weaving communities. In total, there are 7 weaving villages that we work with, each one bringing a specific style, technique and creativity to these products. In our recent trip to Malawi, which you can read about in our Adventure With Us blog post, we visited these villages, to spend time, talk and understand the people behind these amazing handwoven African products.
There is so much to tell you all, so for now we have dedicated this blog post to introducing you to each village and their style of weaving.
The first group of weavers we visited also has one of the most heart warming stories. We asked our facilitator to have samples made of a particular weave we wanted to produce. He came across a man from a village that was really struggling to make ends meet, after handing over the brief our facilitator would return the following week to check the samples. One was woven by the man and the other sample was woven by his wife. It turned out that the best sample had been woven by the wife, who turned out to be the chief of the village too! which is something quite special and rare in Malawi. As the design and production of this product have evolved, her team of weavers has grown to 24 females and 4 males, all earning and bringing an income into this village! This has turned out to be one of our most popular weaves, a design that has been with us for ages – the Talala and Nguema baskets.
Our next stop was at our Fundo weavers. This was a bit larger and slightly more established village run by a male chief. We arrived in the heat of the day, so Rob made a b-line for the water pump where the children helped him splash off and cool down. We work with between 9 – 12 male weavers, who sit under the trees smoking joints and cigarettes with kids running around them. Even though the size of this village is much larger there is still a beautiful calmness and happiness amongst the community.
The Lundu side table is another long-standing Ashanti Design product. There are about 20 weavers in this village who make an array of products from side tables, to Malawian Toys. An extremely creative group of weavers who pride themselves on very neat and tight stitches. Located quite far out, in a very rural part of Malawi, all our products are transported to the warehouse via the old faithful bicycle! This is the only community of weavers who use needles to stitch with. Every Lundu side table has a different hourglass shape, even though we try to standardise our products, they are never exactly the same, which is the nature of a handmade product.
Our next stop is a massive male run village with our biggest group of just over 30 weavers specialising in the Sinan style. While we are always working closely with the chief and his weavers to ensure there is a certain level of quality control, it still proves really challenging to enforce this level of quality on such a big scale. The interesting part of this village though, is that this is where all our black palm dying happens. Once the palm leaves have been dyed here they then get transported via bicycle to the other villages for weaving. More on the black dying process soon! As guests in the village, we were received with chairs to sit on.
The next stop on our journey was at our Mapanzi weavers – they make the herringbone pattern we see in our Zobzo and Mapanzi basket products. This village has quite an interesting dynamic as the weavers we work with are all female however the chief is male, which means we can never deal directly with the weavers, all communication has to go through the chief. The herringbone pattern is a particularly interesting style of weaving, it is used to create the mats that villagers sleep and sit on inside their huts.
The last village we visited was the Wicker weavers. They have extremely low structured huts next to the side of the highway where they gather to weave every day. As a 5”4 tall person (which isn’t very tall at all) I could barely stand in the middle of the huts at their highest points. Here we work with about 20 male weavers who are all slightly elderly. Wicker is an extremely invasive water reed, which is pulled out of the river areas, harvested and stripped down. The stems are then bundled up and left in water to soak, once soft the wicker becomes more pliable it can be weaved into shape which hardens up as it dries.
We unfortunately couldn’t make it to this village due to massive floods that had washed away large portions of the roads. This village is located quite high up in the mountains, making it quite tricky to access.
Currently Malawi is facing detrimental floods, many of the roads used to walk and transport goods via bicycle have been washed away or are under water. Causing delays in getting goods from one village to another, leaving people stranded and unable to access products and services. Villages who rely on their weavers for income are feeling the strain of not being able to get their products transported and sold.
While the heart of Ashanti has always been the people of Africa, we strive to continually support and aim to create a product that still carries all the right values and qualities of what Ashanti stands for.