The Zulu’s are the largest tribe in Southern Africa, renowned for their artistry and craftsmanship. Perhaps the one craft that typifies the precision and skills of these crafters is basket weaving.
Nestled between a cluster of fever trees, on the outskirts of Hluhluwe is Ilala Weavers Gallery, Museum, Restaurant and Nursery. Ilala Weavers have built relationships with a number of communities within a 200km radius of Hluhluwe which has empowered women of the region to support themselves and their families. The strong bond that has been forged, just like the basketry skills, have stood the test of time and continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
Jackie Sutton, the current custodian of Ilala Weavers is the second generation to be working with the community of weavers and crafters from the surrounding areas.
The passion began in the early 1970’s, when two friends developed an interest in Zulu handcrafts after visiting a pension pay-out day in one of the outlying areas of northern Zululand. At that time the “pension days” were a fun and colourful experience, with the local community setting up markets similar to western craft markets, and selling their handicrafts and home produce amongst each other, – there were specialist crafters, like the shield-maker, assegai- maker, basket-weavers, potters, and woodcarvers, to name but a few. Being so isolated, the community had no formal outlets for their work, and were delighted when these two friends purchased some of their handcrafts, and they were invited to come back!
And so began a journey now interwoven in the history of the area, spawned by a vision to help this very grass-roots community to earn a living “with their hands”, especially the women, many of whom were left at home to fend for their children, whilst their husbands were living and working in the cities and mines.
The friends continued to buy their work, and as months went by home storage ran out and they still had no idea what to do with all the wonderful works! It was then that the plan was hatched to open a shop. With no retail space in the village, a farmer offered a small piece of roadside land, en route to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve.
Before long a thatched shop, aptly named “Tekwane’s Nest” – the Zulu name for a bird which fills it nest with found treasures – popped up. The little store was soon inundated with more and more Zulu crafters from other areas, some as far afield as 200 km, resulting in a formidable collection of traditional Zulu crafts – from old beadwork and woodcarvings to beautiful baskets woven from the Ilala Palm which abounds in the area.
In 1980 the ‘little shop’ was sold and Ilala Weavers was born, starting life in a home-based farm shed. This was a difficult time in South Africa’s history, being in the heart of the Apartheid era, and with sanctions in place, it was almost impossible to export any of the crafts, despite numerous enquiries. However, due to the fact that Ilala Weavers were helping grass-roots artists, the USA finally agreed to allow the products in, provided each shipment was accompanied with a sworn declaration stating that they were in no way sponsored by, or connected to any Parastatal organisation.
Fast forward to 1994; a High Point in the history of South Africa, with the advent of the first successful Democratic Election following the release of Nelson Mandela. This generated a lot of interest in South Africa, and Tourism expanded dramatically, which in turn generated a lot of interest in the handcrafts of the country, which boosting the growth of Ilala Weavers. As a result Ilala Weavers was awarded the SBDC Trophy for “The Most Innovative Exporter of the Year”, as well as the Sunday Tribune/Coopers & Lybrand “Exporter of the Year for SMME’s.”
Over the years a major renovation and facelift of the old farm house and buildings has resulted in a retail “Gallery”, Restaurant, and Museum, the latter to showcase the many incredible and unique antique Zulu artefacts collected over the years.
Ilala Weavers continues to support the local crafters, enabling them to continue to weave their magic, and allowing locals and tourists to find that perfect Zulu craft peice to adorn their home.
Ilala Weavers carries original hand-woven Ilala baskets as well as traditional Zulu beadwork, wire baskets, wood carvings and more modern hand-crafted items, all of which have the un-mistakable stamp of Zulu heritage at their roots.
Visit Ilala Weavers
This feature was made possible through DUrbanTVs partnership with ANEW Hotel Hluhluwe