The Sunday News
Nobukhosi Ndlovu, Sunday News Reporter
DESPITE the rapid modernisation and fast paced technological advancements going on in the world, the Tonga people in Binga District, Matabeleland North province, still uphold their cultural beliefs, lifestyle and customs.
Their economy is mostly tourism driven by the Tonga culture that encompasses arts and craft, as well as fishing.
Furthermore, the BaTonga women have mastered the art and craft of weaving beautiful products using ilala palm (hyphaene petersiana) thereby tapping effortlessly into the National Development Strategy (NDS1), which encourages the use of local resources for community empowerment.
They have been doing that anywhere and benefiting economically through exports but now that it is supported by a national economic blueprint, it will find more expression and support. And in support of the cultural tourism, the Binga Rural District Council (BRDC) founded the Binga Craft Centre in 1981. The centre is a community based organisation which acts as a common market place for crafters within the district to showcase and sell their wares.
It has over the years helped weavers in the district to regenerate ilala palm which is a very important plant in the district in the basket making business.
It has, however, been depleting and on Tuesday, Binga Craft Centre helped the Siangwemu ilala basket weavers plant the ilala palm seeds. The Siangwemu group was established in 1992 and is in Manjolo ward under Chief Binga.
Binga Craft Centre Administration and marketing manager Mr Matabbeki Mudenda said the Siangwemu ilala basket weavers work together to produce different types of basket wares.
“The group has about 100 women and they are divided into three clubs namely Siangwemu one, two and three .When it comes to planting the ilala they work as one big group. The Siangwemu group makes a lot of baskets consisting of different types and designs. They make Nongos (vases), Binga baskets, drum tables, safari tables, nsosas, mats and ilala baskets,” he said.
Mr Mudenda said they have massive orders coming from international buyers and this has seen the depletion of the ilala plants that grow naturally along the Zambezi.
“We have international orders from Asia and locally and this has caused a major depletion in the ilala palm. The group also consist of 60 percent elderly women who are no longer able to travel long distances to go and harvest ilala leaves which are the raw materials used to make these baskets,” he said
Mr Matabbeki said to curb the problems encountered by elder women who cannot travel long distances, they have resorted to planting the ilala palm near homes.
“By planting the ilala palm near the homes of the weavers, our aim is to shorten the distance and reduce the production costs,” he said.
Mr Mudenda revealed that through basket weaving, the women have been uplifted financially as they are able to take care of their families and uplift their lives.
“Basketry is helping the women to get money for their basic needs. They are now able to pay fees for their children in schools at various levels from primary, secondary and tertiary education. This shows the reason why ilala palms should be planted so that the weavers at Siangwemu Village are able to meet the demands of their clients and also sustain their lives,” he said.
He said to keep basketry weaving alive in Binga, Binga Craft Centre sought funding from Global Environment Facility (GEF) to secure ilala seeds and plant some ilala woodlots to enable weavers to get the plant at their closest reach.
“We are grateful for the GEF funds because they helped us secure ilala seeds and also contributed in the construction of a weaving shade which is meant for the weavers when they to do their work and share skills during production of crafts,” he said.
Plans are in progress to expand horizons so that the organisation.
“Ilala planting is an ongoing project under Binga Craft Centre. The Siangwemu Village has other plots where they planted seeds in the past years but there is a need to throng the village with the valuable ilala palm species. This will help increase the plant population and that way the women will continue to benefit from making baskets.”