Welcome to my A-Z 2018, for which I am revisiting Africa, the continent of my childhood and my dreams. The posts are, as always, infoheavy and opinionated, but they are sectioned off - some music, the day’s topic, couple writers, a slideshow from the safaris – plenty ways to cherry-pick. So you may consume just as much, or as little, as you're cool with. Zero obligation to agree with any of my views either, feel free to air yours :)

Monday, 2 April 2018

B is for Baskets...and Butterflies...



is for

Listen to Aziza Brahim, a Saharawi singer and actor, it’s Julud from her 2014 album Soutak.  And then, it’s the Burundi Drummers. Enjoy!








Butterfly mosaics - In 70’s Nigeria, I don’t think anyone paid much attention to CITES agreements and such, and bugs were probably not thought of as worth saving, even the most beautiful ones. Peddlers came to the house with a mind-boggling array of wares – garments, handicrafts, leather goods, basketry, others with dairy products, meat. Some of them were the tribesfolk/artisans selling what they made themselves directly to urban customers, but many were middlemen, collecting a wide range of dissimilar goods and hawking them from house to house. As expats, we were the prime target markets for ‘souvenirs.’ I saw the most wondrous workmanship in snakeskin, ivory, ebony wood, alloy metals, leather… When I think of it now, much of it was ridiculously, almost insultingly, priced, the artisans couldn’t have made a sustainable income.

Butterfly mosaics were one such artform – fascinating, but also a little horrifying to contemplate. A bit like those insect collections pinned out under glass, only with a somewhat disturbing artistry, give me the heebie-jeebies. I remember my mum bought a lot of stuff – mostly leather pouffes and wood carvings, but she obviously felt similar misgivings about the butterfly mosaics and never bought any.


Nigeria has more than 1800 species of butterflies recorded, found in concentrations near the Nigeria-Cameroonian border. But butterfly mosaics are commonly made through sub-Saharan Africa, not just in Nigeria or the Cameroons. The Central African Republic is a major source of these artworks, used by some as therapy against years of strife. The mosaics often depict simple rural motifs and scenes – birds, trees, women going to market with babies strapped onto their backs. They use the colours of the wings with amazing effect. Read more here.


Credit
But controversies remain. There are passionate conservationists and animal rights groups campaigning against the hunting and depletion of these beautiful creatures for supplying art markets. And on the other side of this debate are the proponents who claim the art uses only wings from naturally dead butterflies. The adult insect is short lived after all, and flits around on those wings only for a few weeks/months.  Caught up in the middle are the artists and the artisans trying to keep an age-old traditional artform and themselves going. As with many things Africa, the answers are never easy nor clear cut.


Baskets from Kenya
Baskets - Basket weaving is a traditional craft in large swathes of Africa, undertaken mostly by women to supplement incomes from subsistence farming. Many types of grasses, papyri, palm leaves, banana leaves and root fibres are used as raw material. The items produced are not ‘art’ but everyday products used around homes and markets for storage and carrying. They can be plain, or intricately colourful, with geometric/abstract/floral patterns. 

Egyptian baskets
The techniques used are complex, similar to textile weaving, and include chequered, cross weaving and coil weaving. Tight weaves are used to make watertight containers used for collection and transport of fluids such as milk. Loose weaves are ideal for filters and sieves. Baskets are a popular and eco-friendly alternative to the ubiquitous plastic packaging materials, used in Africa from ancient times till now. 

They also make stunning wall art when hung up.

From the Safaris 


~ Thanks for watching!  ~


Books n stuff

Kwesi Brew (1928-2007) was a Ghanian poet, brought up by a British guardian after his parents died. He was among the first graduates of the University College of Gold Coast. He won a poetry competition while he was an undergraduate and went onto publish several volumes of poetry. His early poems were collected in ‘Shadows of Laughter’ in 1968. He entered the administrative service in Ghana and was a diplomat serving his country in UK, France Germany, USSR and India, before representing Ghana as an ambassador in Mexico, Lebanon and Senegal. Brew was one among the traditions of writer-diplomats the era of decolonialisation and independence produced in West Africa.

A handful of his poems were part of my school syllabus in Literature in the 70’s – this is one of them:

The Mesh
We have come to the crossroads
And I must either leave or come with you.
I lingered over the choice
But in the darkness of my doubts
You lifted the lamp of love
And I saw in your face
The road that I should take.

No inkling if the MC stayed or left, I totally loved that he didn’t make his choice apparent. Hooked early on, as you can see, by ambiguity and loose ends.

Adrian Igonibo Barrett, a.k.a. Igoni Barrett (1979 - ) - This guy wasn’t part of my school syllabus, not because he isn’t brilliant, but because he was just a toddler when I was at school.

Barrett is a young Nigerian author, born in Port Harcourt and an alumnus of Ibadan University. He shot to fame with a short story collection called From Caves of Rotten Teeth in 2005. One of the stories from the collection won the BBC Short Story Prize. His second collection Love is Power, or Something Like That was published in 2013 followed by his debut novel Blackass in 2016. He has been listed among the 100 most influential Nigerians. Read more about his life and writing here. And one of his short stories here





To all the A-Zers commenting here - thank you! Please leave me a link at the end of your comment so I can visit you back. If you don't wish to leave a live link, it's fine just to paste in your blog address. Just leave me something that leads directly back to your blog, please!





Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018

39 comments:

  1. Love 'The Mesh'. Ambiguity, unfinished stories are an integral part of my world too.
    The butterfly mosaics? Sad. They are such ephemeral magic and I like to think of them fluttering free. But that is a personal perspective.
    Those baskets? Utilitarian or not they ARE art.

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    1. Unfinished stories are the stuff of the real world I think hence their appeal...don't like butterflies under glass...dead or alive...

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  2. the baskets are gorgeous. The butterfly mosaics - fascinating and yet a bit grim. Love the safari video - quite a bounty of B's. Bravo

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    1. Seen women sit by the roadside selling a whole heap of them...the colours and the patterns are a feast and a treat!

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  3. Stopping by as we begin the challenge. A lot of work, but such fun. If you have time my theme this year is bookstores. I write about their architecture, location and the wonderful world of books. Hope you can join the tour this April. I'll be back.

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    1. Agree -lots of work = lots of fun...Books are a favourite subject - will be hopping over to you directly after

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  4. Hari OM
    Oh my... I was in Nigeria for three years (1975 - 1978) and remember well those travelling salesmen; we lived Benin City and they were Hausa tribesmen from the North. Even as I type I look across to the one pouffe I have still remaining from those years... Other family members have different items, but I don't recall the butterfly pieces. Loved both the music offerings! YAM xx

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    1. How cool is that! to discover the Naijja connection...we don't have any of the pouffes left...flooding in Cal the year they moved back...I think they were lost in that...we were in Maiduguri and then in Bauchi for most of the 70's.

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  5. The baskets are lovely! I think the butterfly art would alternately horrify and captivate me.

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    1. I can admire the artists' eye for colour and detail but would never be able to hang one on my wall...just not my thing...

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  6. Butterfly art would leave me cold as well. The things we do to our environment are appalling.

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  7. I think we are alll in agreement - the baskets are fabulous but the butterfly art is a bit odd!

    My Friend Rosey - B is for Boyfriend

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    1. Odd is a polite way of putting it :)

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  8. Wow, yeah, I can see why the butterfly mosaics are controversial. So pretty, but so wrong... O.o

    The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

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    1. You've summed it up in 5 words...exactly!

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  9. The baskets are lovely with the unique patterns. My friend served in the Peace Corps in Africa in the 1980s and when she returned presented me with a butterfly art picture. I had never seen anything like it. It was beautiful, yet difficult to think about the source of the art materials.

    Thanks for writing such an interesting post. Glad I stopped by from the Blogging from A to Z Challenge!

    https://harvestmoonbyhand.blogspot.com/2018/04/hobbies-that-begin-with-b-blogging-from.html

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    1. Yes, the art is quite unique, but disturbing as well. Thanks for visiting.

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  10. Fascinating! I don't know much about Nigeria and this post is very informative. See you again in the challenge.

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    1. Nigeria gets a lot of negative media coverage which kind of obscures the other side. It's a very vibrant culture. Thanks for visiting.

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  11. Great post. I love the Mesh, the baskets (not the butterfly part) and your safari clip - "never a boring moment" - best of all. https://www.hesterleynel.co.za/category/a-z-2018/

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    1. Ya the butterfly part is hard to like.

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  12. I'm with you one the Butterfly mosaics being a little creepy. If they are made from the wings of naturally dead butterflies I can see while they appeal to some, but I suspect there are some producers out there who would happily kill insects on mass to produce a product more quickly.

    I'm sure my parents had some baskets not dissimilar to those in your second picture at one point. Although I know they have never been to Egypt, so I suspect they were presents from someone :).

    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings - Movie Monsters

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    1. The mosaics are kinda creepy either way, and how do you make sure the harvest of wings is from dead insects only?

      Baskets do make great gifts actually, I've received a few too, very handy!

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  13. I am with Tasha - if the butterfly mosaics are made with naturally dead butterflies - cool. If from live captured butterflies - horrible!

    Fun slideshow again!

    Emily In Ecuador | Boats in Puerto Lopez

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    1. Ya, can't think of live butterflies being harvested w/o freaking out.

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  14. Those mosaics are incredible, but it is a bit sad to think about what they're made from.

    http://thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com/

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    1. The skills and the eye for detail are indeed amazing - but I do wish they'd find another medium...

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  15. I don't see any ambiguity in the poem, seeing the love in her face, he made his chose to be with her. I am positive. http://findingeliza.com/

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    1. That's the beauty of Mesh - you can read it with either interpretation.

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  16. I love those baskets, anyone who can make such beautiful 3D forms are so talented in my book :)
    Sophie
    Ghostly Inspirations - Sophies A to Z

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    1. Totally agree. And while it all looks so simple, it isn't - very complex techniques involved to get the right tightness for different purposes.

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  17. I loved the video! Bravo! Thanks for visiting my blog--I'll be back to see more tomorrow.
    Melanie's Storie's

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  18. I am loving the drummers... thank you! :-)

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  19. Hi Nila - lovely photos - and so interesting about the butterflies ... lots of species (1800) and we used to have art work using butterfly wings in SA ... and obviously the basket work was in southern Africa too ... I need to listen to the music and check out your authors, poets ... cheers Hilary

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.ca/2018/04/e-is-for-canadian-earthquake-zone.html

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    1. Ya, I think the butterfly mosaics are continent wide - not a happy artform from my POV. See you around...

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