Harari, Harar, Ethiopia, East Africa
Materials: grasses, dyes
This coiled grass basket was purchased about 1964 in the old market of Harar (a.k.a. Harrar, Harer), an ancient city at the eastern edge of the Ethiopian highlands. Harer has long been a major commercial city connected by trade routes to the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the wider world. The city is venerated by many Muslims as the fourth holiest city of the Islamic world. It is home to more than 80 mosques, including three that date to the 10th century. In addition to Muslims, the city is also home to Christians. These two faiths are practiced by a variety of ethnic groups, including peoples with roots in diverse locales. The city’s distinctive architecture, for instance, draws on influences from Africa, the Middle East and India. The historic importance of Harar’s fortified old city was recognized in 2006 with a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
For centuries, the city has been recognized for excellence in scholarship and the arts of basketry, bookbinding, and weaving. It is also famous for its distinctive coffee. Like many Harari baskets bought by tourists from around the world, this example was purchased from a leading 20th century weaver known as “Basket Mary.” It is made from a kind of grass known locally as akirma (Eleusine jaegeri Pilg. or Eleusine floccifolia (Forssk.) Spreng. Basket making with these grasses is a useful adjunct to cattle raising, as cattle avoid the grasses used by basket weavers, thus their use helps, in some measure, to control what would otherwise be a nuisance weeds (source).
The basket was donated to the museum in 2004 and was identified by the donors as a wedding basket, based on its shape and materials. The Division of Ethnology at SNOMNH hopes to learn more about the construction and use of such baskets and welcomes informational comments upon this example, as well as bibliographic suggestions.
To learn more about the city of Harar and its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visit its UNESCO information page here. This site includes a set of photographs, including an image of one of the city’s basketry shops. Find Harar on Google Maps here.
This basket came to the SNOMNH collection as part of a larger set of gifts made by members of the Oklahoma-Ethiopia Society. This organization has its roots in a long term partnership between Oklahoma State University and educational and agricultural organizations in Ethiopia. This history was the subject of a recent story in the Daily Oklahoman. [Jason Baird Jackson]