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Basket weavers' big gain from ban on plastic bags

By Phares Mutembei | September 3rd 2021

Martha Kaguurukia weaving a traditional basket at Nkarini in Tharaka South, Tharaka Nithi County. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

From grandmothers to young girls in areas where there are assorted grasses for making the baskets, proceeds from the items are helping families supplement their income for a better living.

Since 2017, when the government banned the use and manufacture of plastic bags, several families buy the weaved baskets, which can be recycled. The then-Environment CS Judi Wakhungu said the ban was because the bags constituted the biggest challenge to solid waste management.

Among the beneficiaries of the ban is Martha Kagurukia, a basket weaver. The 58-year-old woman has a safe pair of hands in basketry, an activity that has become a preserve of the older women in that community.

But even as she churns out different sizes of baskets, traditionally used to sift or hold grains, Kagurukia throws glances at her herd of cattle in the grazing field. “I am a traditional basket weaver and a herder. When my grandchildren are in school, I am the one who takes the cattle out to graze, just near my homestead. While at it, I do basket weaving for commercial purposes,” she said.

She said weavers used to get the strands from Chiakariga Ward. “The special strands used to weave are not found everywhere. There are some locations where they thrive.”

Kagurukia is visibly vexed that young people cannot weave a basket to save their lives.

“Weaving is a cherished art among the old women. To weave a quality item, you must understand how to inter-lace the strands, otherwise, you end up with a weak product that cannot withstand weight or that disintegrates when dropped,” she said.

Martha Kaguurukia and her daughter Rose weaving traditional baskets at Nkarini in Tharaka South, Tharaka Nithi County. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

She said the traditional baskets are a valuable item in the homestead, and the girls should learn how to make them.

“I get irritated when I see girls at the market bargaining when they are buying the baskets. In the old days, we made them ourselves. After all, the raw materials are readily available. We only started making them for sale after we realised they were in demand,” she said.

Kagurukia said she took it upon herself to teach the younger generation how to make the baskets. She can weave one basket in two to three days, even as she tends to her livestock and household chores.

“I sell a piece at Sh70, which I think is very fair considering its quality and the amount of time I invest. With the money, I can buy soap, food and other items,” she said.

Lydia, 22, the last born among four sisters, said not only is she now adept at the art of weaving the baskets, but she is working on her speed to ensure she can make one in a day or two. “My mother and the other elderly women in the village are highly skilled because they have been weaving throughout their lives,” she said.

“I decided to learn the art because the old women make beautiful baskets. I admire their talent, and I want to be equally good.”

Harriet M’Muthuri, 62, and Rosemary Njue, 71, have been weaving for as long as they can remember. They are now teaching their grandchildren the art.

“I was also taught by my grandmother when I was a young girl. It is a shame that the youth do not know how to make a simple basket,” said M’Muthuri. 

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