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The study was inspired by the near absence of scholarly work on the basket industry in Ihiala, Anambra State of Nigeria. The main objective was to establish the fact that basket is one of the world crafts that have remained aesthetically and functionally acceptable in the modern world amidst industrially manufactured products. Again, this study attempts to highlight the cultural, historical, religious, economic, and aesthetic importance of basket industry in Nigeria.
Quantitative and Iconographical methods were used. Text and interview approaches were adopted to obtain relevant information. From the information  Collected, there is insufficient literature contrary to the age and functions of basket industry. The study also observes that the society has gone through some obvious changes and in the same vein, pre-colonial basketry has undergone drastic changes from the conventional types to customised types. Modernizations have succeeded in giving more glamour to traditional basketry. And as such, its relevances should be documented adequately.




Background to the Study

Basketry is a process as well as a product of weaving together different materials like cane, palm frond, kaba leaves, rubber, metal wires among others. It is  otherwise known as the craft of basket–making. It is a container made of interwoven strips of cane or wire for holding or carrying things. Basket,  according to The New Encyclopedia Britannica, is the art and craft of making interwoven objects, usually containers from flexible vegetable fibers, such as twigs, grasses osiers, bamboo and rushes. To this effect, basket can be made from any material that is flexible or weak provided the material can be bent at ease. Baskets are generally called ekete but because of differences in dialect, they are called nkata in Anambra State, ekete in Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu State; and ide in Umuahia.

There are various types of baskets with different and varying designs. Baskets come in various sizes and perform multiple functions. These variations can  be achieved by varying the pattern of the weave or by introducing coloured fibres. The modern era has introduced organic shapes into basket– making and this is evident in diverse functions and the methods of producing these baskets.  To keep pace with the trends, basket makers have also widened their range of products and the types to include baskets made with metal wires, dried rushes, rubber types of basket, baby rattles, roll baskets, posy basket, serving baskets, flower baskets among many others. Baskets are utilitarian objects. In one’s everyday life, one finds oneself making use of these different types of basket for one’s daily needs. It is one of the world crafts that have remained aesthetically and functionally acceptable in the modern world amidst industrially manufactured products.

A number of factors account for this. It is relatively cheap, affordable and readily available. Anybody in the society can purchase and own one. The materials are also cheap and many of them can be gathered free. Moreover, it is highly patronized in the northern part of Nigeria. Basket-making is in different traditional styles and this depends on their uses. For example, nkata ube (basket for pea) is used for carrying and storing pea; while ukpa another type of  basket, rectangular in shape is used mainly by palm-wine tapers for carrying domestic animals and other farm products to the market. There are also
some baskets that are made for ritual purposes.

Basketry is one of the oldest of all crafts we know today. However, its origin in Igbo land is not known and cannot be traced, but it is claimed to be as old as  the Igbo race. It has transcended many generations. Corroborating this, Chukwunyere (2008), states that the oldest known basket dates between 10,000 and 12,000 years old in Fauyin. This date is earlier than any established dates for its archaeological finds.In the Middle East, other baskets were discovered 7000 years ago. Oyelola also states that basketry appears on the continent of Africa at the same time as mat-making in Egypt in 4000 BC3. She further  States that one of the earliest written references we have of basket in Nigeria is by James Welsh who visited Benin in 15884.The art of basket-making is a very lucrative craft in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State.

They are needed for many purposes ranging from carrying or storing of fish, transporting of fowls, goats, pots or groundnuts. As a result, it can be argued that basket has some advantages over plastic containers. However, the indigenous basket maker Ohanusi John from Alukabia in Ihiala Local Government when orally interviewed agrees that the functionality of basketry cannot be over emphasized and that there are varieties of baskets, which are categorized as follows: nkata ukwu (biggest basket), nkata oji (basket for kolanut),nkata aki (basket for palm kernel), nkata ukwa (basket of breadfruit), nkata ube (basket of pea), abo or avo (basket for carrying animals), akpara (basket for spreading cereals or other food stuffs for drying), ukpa (basket for carrying kegs of palm wine or domestic animals), and many others.

To buttress this point further, the names, materials and methods the local craftsmen adopt in the making of baskets in Ihiala are the same. Ohanusi  xplains that Ihiala local Government is noted for using palm fronds fiber in making their baskets. These baskets are called nkata or ekete5. The palm frond fiber is very common in Ihiala region because of the humid environment that favours palm trees and enhance the making and processing of raw materials for  Basket industry. Although they use the same fiber for the making of basket, there is however, diversification in the sizes, shapes and uses. Another relevant informant is Muonanu. When interviewed orally, she corroborated the views of Ohanusi and in addition confirms that basket is known by different names  which is synonymous to their uses6. For example nkata aki (basket for kernel) which is narrowly weaved starting from the base and expands at the top is not as firmly secured as nkata ukwa (basket for breadfruit). It is important to mention that nkata ukwa is roundish in shape with tinny weft and warp  trands.

The making is tight and firm to avoid friction and losses when it is used for washing breadfruit. The influence of modernization has not really been  mbraced by the Ihiala traditional basketry. The same technique was adopted and transferred from generation to generation. There is little or no evidence of modern  technology in all the baskets produced by the craftsmen in Ihiala. Nwosu Emma, a traditional craftsman when orally interviewed believes that if we fine–tune the local technique of fibre processing to bring them in line with modern practices, the local craftsman will go international. He states further that he went into modernized basket-making because of some challenges in his life and also agrees that economic hardship is another instrumental factor to people’s desire and option for going into basket-making.

8 Many people are running away from basket-making because they lack creative ingenuity and encouragement from the society. If they are adequately encouraged, the skill will become honorable, desirable and marketable. It will create more job opportunities for the people of Ihiala. And many people will go into craft full time and this will lead to the development of more complex innovations for local consumption and export. Geographical Location of Ihiala The progress of any nation is largely dependent on its people. The same is applicable of a town and Ihiala being one of the prominent towns in Anambra State is not an exception. Ihiala is located in the South-Eastern zone of Anambra State.

It is surrounded in the East by Nnewi South Local Government Area, Anambra state and Orsu Local Government Area of Imo State respectively, in the west by Ogbaru Local Government Area, in the North by Ekwusigo Local Government Area and Oru-West Local Government Area of Imo State in the South. Some decades ago, Ihiala had nothing to bring it into the limelight or prominence. But today, the town has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis in the field of  education, religion, agriculture, politics, economy and arts and crafts. Ihiala is located within the rainforest and Guinea Savanna Zone of Igbo-land. The fertility of the land has made the town very rich in agricultural crops like palm trees, cassava, yam among many others. And because of the strategic  location of Ihiala and its network of roads, buying and transporting of baskets become convenient for the patrons.



Statement of the Problem

Since the ancient times, baskets have been part of human existence. In spite of this, no serious effort has been made by scholars and researchers to study and document the art of basket making. It is therefore very necessary to highlight the material, cultural and social roles of basket, which is used to interpret values, beliefs and attitudes of the people.


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