Handcrafted baskets have been part of the Rwanda culture for centuries. But today, its popularity has found its way internationally, through cultural tourism.
Originally woven from natural fibers and grasses, Rwanda’s women learned to weave Agaseke, the Rwandan traditional basket with the help of their mothers and grandmothers, carrying on a tradition that had been passed down from generation to generation.
The baskets symbolise a coming together to provide for the needs of their families while also instilling love and respect for their country and culture.
In the Rwandan traditional setting, Agaseke symbolises a secret.
From ancient times, gifts could be wrapped or not, but finally placed in the basket, then offered.
“Its considered a surprise, placing it inside the basket was an honourable cultural act,” said Pascasie Mukaburigo, a basket weaver, who for close to 40 years has earned a living from selling the baskets.
The cost of the baskets range between Rwf10,000 and 300,000 depending on the size and make.
In the Rwandan homesteads, baskets were used for keeping most essential items like money, food, tobacco, oils, milk, ornaments, cloths, medicines and herbs.
Various types of baskets served various roles. For instance Nyabitabo, a kind of basket weaved by a girl and offered to her mother-in-law before the marriage ceremony. Others included Agaseke k’urukundo (Love basket), mostly offered to the married and Agaseke k’amahoro (Peace basket), which today dominates the market.
In modern Rwanda, there has been cultural transformation. However, Agaseke still holds its place in the society.
It may not exactly serve the original roles of preserving items because cupboards, wardrobes and other items have been introduced. Today, the basket is also used as an ornament in sitting rooms, offices, restaurants and hotels.
While at weddings and introduction functions, the Rwandan norm still reigns through it, as the basket is presented to either the bride or groom as a symbol of friendship and unity.