Come Adventure In Malawi With Us!

Earlier this year, Rob and Lizanne ventured off to Malawi to spend some time with our weaving communities. Not being able to connect with them in person for the past few years made this an extremely well needed trip! We sat down with Lizanne to get the full scope of where our products come from and insight into the people creating them.

Malawi Trip

Malawi through the eyes of one of Ashanti’s own – Lizanne:

“I was so excited about this trip, it was my first time leaving South Africa and I couldn’t wait to see what Malawi had in store! We travelled to Johannesburg from Cape Town and then 4 hours later we were in Malawi. The first thing I noticed was the heat,  for lack of better word, it was f*cking hot!” – Lizanne

Village life and the recipe to happiness:

While visiting the different villages, it quickly dawns on me how people have nothing but time. They spend their days working on their land, mainly as subsistence farmers.  People in the villages wake up with the sunrise, spend some time together in the morning as a family and then go out and tend to their crops. By 9am/10am when the heat gets too much to bear, people leave their crops and retreat to shady areas under lush palm trees. A calm space for creativity where villagers sit to weave, smoke and chat until temperatures drop. Thereafter it’s family time again, followed by dinner and when the sun goes down it’s time to rest. There is a beautiful contentment, happiness and peace in the serenity of village life. 

It’s quite well-known that the people of Malawi are always happy and friendly, but we forget that Malawi is one of the poorest countries. I found this so fascinating and wondered how this was possible. As my time in the villages went on, I came to realise that the Malawian people live simple lives, decluttered and without materialistic values. They have their very own recipe to happiness – family, community, life with no reason to chase time. Everything comes from the earth, whether it is the floors in the huts, the bricks used for walls from fired clay or palm leaves woven into roofs and mats for sleeping on. There are lots of chickens, cattle and even more goats! The goats are the good ones while the cattle are the naughty ones. With about 5 to 6 children in each family, every home is full. 

Lake Malawi
Fisherman on Lake Malawi
Warehouse Chicken
Local resident and protector of our Basket Warehouse. This guy was feisty!

Bicycles galore:

Each community works in a different way, some harvest palm leaves for themselves, while others trade for palm. Everything is transported by bicycle, I mean EVERYTHING! All the roads to and from the villages and into the cities are covered in bicycles, there is a bicycle for every need from moving livestock to firewood. All our products are transported from our villages to the warehouse on the backs of these amazing bicycles, which is easier to believe once you’ve seen it in real life.

Throughout the years that we have been working in Malawi, we pride ourselves on how far our weaving communities have come, with no government funding or help from external organisations. We have managed to establish these structures, processes and weaving productions with blood sweat, tears and lots of dreams! There is always room for improvement in our infrastructure in this very rural country, we know there are delays and things that don’t always go according to plan. So with every basket sold, it helps us to strengthen and secure the livelihoods of the communities that we have been working with for the last 16 years. When you meet and sit with the people from these amazing villages, you realise how every bit of energy that goes into this business is so absolutely worth it!

Read more about our journey through Malawi, Visiting Our Weavers, and introducing you to the 7 weaving villages that Ashanti Design works with. Each village has an unique weaving style, technique and creativity that make these beautiful handwoven African baskets come to life.

Visit our Basket Range to shop any of handwoven African baskets.

Something Special About Black Baskets

Our latest black basket range has a very special story which we’ve been incredibly eager to share with you. Not only does the dark, rich tone of the palm add warmth and class to a living space, but it actually gets its colour through natural dye processes - the oxidation of rusty metals in water. How incredible?! Using what would otherwise be thrown away and finding innovative ways to elevate these beautiful creations. If you’ve had a chance to read our Malawi Trip and Visiting Our Weavers blog posts, you would have some knowledge about where our various baskets come from. Each one is handwoven using traditional techniques and materials harvested within their villages and surrounds. Basket weaving has formed an integral part of Malawian culture. This incredible artisanal skill provides income to support their villages through export and trade. At Ashanti Design, we have established relationships with 7 weaving villages whom we collaborate with to produce specific basket ranges. In our Visiting Our Weavers blog, we touched on the Sinan weaving village who has not only developed their own unique basket weave but also runs the process of black dyeing palm leaves which then gets distributed to the rest of our weavers. The people of Malawi are extremely resourceful, which is clear in their incredible creations. Due to black dye chemicals being so expensive and only easily available in first and second world countries, our weavers have developed their own method of “black dye” by means of a chemical reaction through oxidation. Our weavers are able to reuse and upcycle old bits of rustic metal for the oxidation process and the water used can be disposed of in nature or through normal waste water systems without causing any harm to the environment. The Black Basket Process: This process is not only a more sustainable and environmentally friendly process but it also creates a lasting effect which doesn't fade over time.  All the baskets are handwoven using palm leaf which grows in abundance in Malawi. These leaves are harvested and stripped down for weaving.  The stripped palm is transferred to handmade clay pots or metal drums, followed by bits of rusty scrap metal.  The holding vessel is topped up with water and the contents is left to brew for seven days  After a week of soaking, the water is heated on an open fire, causing a chemical reaction between the water and metal pieces, ultimately causing the palm leaves to turn black! What happens next: One of the ladies in our Sinan weaving village owns her own house - something quite rare and special for remote rural villages like this. Her home has been used for many different things - even housing livestock. We at Ashanti Design currently rent her building as a storeroom for all our palm leaves that have been dyed or still need to be dyed.  The stripped black palm leaves are bundled together and transported by bicycle to our different weaving villages who then turn this extraordinary raw material into beautiful black baskets, lampshades and stools.  At Ashanti Design, we believe in the sustainability of our products, the processes behind them and the impact this makes on our weaving communities. This is why we absolutely love the fact that this new addition to our basket range ticks all our environmental & sustainability boxes!  Shop this black basket range below: Shop Black Talala Basket Shop Black Katondo Basket Shop Black Fundu Basket Shop Black Sinan Basket Shop Black Stitch Sinan Basket Shop Black Lundu Side Table If you have any questions regarding our black basket range or the dying process, please feel free to Contact Us. We would love to hear from you.  XX The Ashanti Team

Visiting Our Weavers

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. Village 1: 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. Village 2: 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. Village 3: 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. Village 4: 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. Village 5: 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. Village 6: 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. Village 7: 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. We hope you enjoyed the journey through Malawi with us. If you have any questions regarding our basket products please

XX

Ashanti Team