Basket weaving has been practised among the Tonga people for generations. Iriner Mudimba learnt basket weaving from her mother, who learnt it from her mother before her. It probably goes further back in Iriner’s family, but she confesses with a smile that she doesn’t know.
The BaTonga have a tragic history. These traditional fisher-folk were forced to move inland in their thousands and take up subsistence farming when the Zambezi River was dammed to make way for Kariba Dam in the 1950s. Iriner’s mother died several years ago. Her parents were born on either side of the Zambezi River. Her father came from Mamba in Zambia in the days when it was customary for a Tonga man to cross the river to seek a bride, and he made his home in Binga district.
Iriner was born in Kariangwe village, near the Zambezi, in 1983. One of seven children, she attended school there and finished Form 4 with credits in fashion and fabrics, Ndebele and commerce.
Her distinctive baskets are woven with the fibre from a local shrub called “malala”, which is pliable when softened with water, and strong. The red and black strands are dyes from the bark of the munyi tree. As a unique innovation, Iriner is using strands of blue and green recycled plastic to add variety to the designs for the flat baskets, which are traditionally used as plates for household foods. The large spheroid baskets are for storing maize, sorghum and other grains, nuts and beans, and take three days to complete. The smaller baskets serve as bowls.
Iriner and her husband, Ellington Maruwa, live in a rented house in Mabvuku, in the east of greater Harare. Ellington is a blaster with the City of Harare. They have a daughter who is doing Form 3. “She has learnt from me to make baskets,” says Iriner proudly. “I wish her to be a doctor one day.”
Once a month, Iriner returns to Binga to make more baskets, using her own designs.
“Whatever I do in the future,” she says, “whether opening a shop or going overseas, I will continue making my baskets. I love the work.”