Paying the school fees: Bolga baskets in Ghana

Eleanor Brown

NGO TradeAid is based in Bolgatanga, in the Upper East region of Ghana. Its goal is to end poverty in the northern regions. One of the ten different enterprise projects is the INCOME project, which focuses on training people to work in the traditional high skilled craft industry. In Bolgatanga, 22.7% of the population is employed in the craft sector, and in order to celebrate and promote their achievements, the project is involved in the organisation of Bolgatanga International Craft and Arts Fair: BICAF. This showcases the work of the local artisans on both a national and international level. BICAF is an important part of strengthening and securing Bolgatanga’s status as a Fairtrade Town—one of only three in the developing world. This event will help provide more exposure to the artisans internationally but also will help Bolgatanga grow as a tourist destination with opportunities for  future business development.

Eleanor Brown tells Garland about the weavers of bolga baskets supported by TradeAid.

I’m a 20 year old Durham University student from Newcastle (UK) currently volunteering in Ghana through the ICS scheme with 10 other volunteers—four from the UK, six from Ghana. I’m working with a charity called TradeAID, which aims to eradicate poverty through trade and building the individual’s capacity for a sustainable business. My project focuses mainly on working with craft groups – including the basket weavers of Bolgatanga. I’ve been here for 11 weeks so far, and will be heading back to the UK in two weeks. It has been an incredible experience and I’ve loved every second!

Bolga baskets are perhaps the best known type of African basket. They are exclusively made in Bolgatanga, a town in the Upper East region of Ghana—one of the poorest regions. The women hand weave these baskets to supplement the income they make from farming. A medium sized basket will take three days to weave from scratch, from splitting and rolling the straw, to using natural dyes, and finally weaving. There are so many different styles of basket: standard baskets; pot baskets; bread baskets, U-shoppers; baby’s cots; etc. All of them are beautiful and deserve wider exposure. Our aim with the baskets is to bring them to the wider global market, not only to help increase the weavers income, but to showcase their talents to the world. This will also be helped by BICAF, the fair we are fundraising for, which aims to bring the international market to Bolgatanga.

Ellie translated our questions into Fra Fra and translated their answers back into English. Here’s a perspective from the weavers themselves:

Evellyun Baba

Evellyun Baba

Evellyun Baba

Basket weaving group: Ameyire Pogsi

Community: Yebongo

How did you learn to make the Bolga basket?

I learnt in my village ever since I was a child.

Where and when do you make them?

If the straw is available I weave baskets all the time.

What’s the hardest part about making them?

The hardest part is when the straw is not available.

How can people use a Bolga basket?

I sell them to other people to use and sometimes we use them ourselves.

What do you enjoy the most in your life?

We are always happy when TradeAID places an order for us because I get a lot of money from my baskets.

img_1045Abanbire Asampana

Basket weaving group: Adigenongo

Community: Nyariga

How did you learn to make the Bolga basket?

I buy the straw, roll them and then weave them in baskets

Where and when do you make them?

I make them all the time in the house.

What’s the hardest part about making them?

When the straw is not ready in time.

How can people use a Bolga basket?

I sell them to tourists for them to use.

What do you enjoy the most in your life?

I enjoy being able to pay my children’s school fees.

Evellyun Baba, Adompoka Agetha, Aditoio Alima and Rose Agamikere

Evellyun Baba, Adompoka Agetha, Aditoio Alima and Rose Agamikere

Adompoka Agetha

Basket weaving group: Yebongo

How did you learn to make the Bolga basket?

Someone taught me how to make Bolga baskets under a tree.

Where and when do you make them?

I make them at home under a tree in the afternoon and teach others who don’t know how to make them.

What’s the hardest part about making them?

Rolling the straws is the hardest part for me.

How can people use a Bolga basket?

The picnic baskets are used for food to go on picnics.

What do you enjoy the most in your life?

I always use the baskets I weave as bags for my market shopping and also sell some for money to help care for my family.

Rose Agamikere

Basket weaving group: Zobigo

How did you learn to make the Bolga basket?

The mothers and other friends were basket weaving so they taught me.

Where and when do you make them?

I make them at home any time I am free.

What’s the hardest part about making them?

There are some baskets that our group cannot weave so when we start to weave them it is always hard for us to complete them.

How can people use a Bolga basket?

Some people use Bolga baskets for their shopping and some for fruits.

What do you enjoy the most in your life?

Whenever I get an order from somewhere I am always happy because I can get more money from my baskets and that helps me a lot.

Authors

Thanks to Sakinah Ilyas, Dylan Monticelli and Ellie Brown. If you would like to provide support for TradeAID please contact [email protected]


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