Additional Information: Lidded baskets such as this are among the most exquisite artworks made by the Tutsi women. The Tutsi (Watutsi or Watusi) people live mainly in Rwanda and Burundi along side with the Hutu and the Twa with whom they share similar cultures and speak the same language, the Kinyaruanda. According to the oral tradition, the Tutsi were originally cattle herders and Nilotic who moved south from Ethiopia and conquered the homeland of the Hutu about 600 hundred years ago. Despite their small number, the Tutsi managed to impose a new social political structure based on a Lord-Vassal relationship with the Hutu. Until the colonial period, Tutsi Mwami (King) ruled the Tutsi as well as the Hutu and Twa. During this period, Germans and than Belgians limited the authority of the Mwami and regulated the relationship between Tutsi, Hutu and Twa. Traditional art of Rwanda and Burundi is usually represented by basketry, pottery, metal working and Jewelry. Little is known about their sculpture. The Tutsi excel in producing these beautiful miniature lidded baskets, which become symbols of the Tutsi culture. These baskets called Agaseki were made from vegetable fibers of sisal and papyrus trees (Nigwegwe). The grasses of these trees were soaked in the water for almost two weeks to make them soft. Then they were beaten with stones and dried. Earlier examples like this were made of the natural pale gold color of the fibers decorated with the patterns in black which came from boiling the root and seeds of the Urukamgi plant or the banana flowers. Recent examples incorporate imported dyes including red, green, orange, and mauves. The range of the patterns is unlimited and shows the creativity of women from Rwanda and Burundi. Many of these designs have specific names. These baskets were served as containers to transport valued foods such as eggs, milk, beans, meat, and other valuable objects. They were presented as wedding gifts to a bride and groom. They were also used as decoration. After the genocide of 1994, the miniature baskets have became symbols of peace, as Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa women sit side by side to weave the “peace baskets”. They have new designs and are more colorful compare to these earlier examples. Also, the straw used for these new baskets is thicker than the traditional ones. For similar pieces see AFRICA. THE ART OF CONTINENT, p. 158, figs. 2.44a
See also COLLECTION MARC AND DENYSE GINZBERG, Sotheby's, Paris, 10 Septembre 2007, fig. 125, p. 201
Kathleen Margaret Trowell. Tribal Crafts of Uganda. London: Oxford University Press, 1953
Georges Celis. " The Decorative Arts in Rwanda and Burundi" in African Arts 4(1), 1970:40-42
Margaret Carey, "Five Miniature Baskets ", In AFRICA. THE ART OF A CONTINENT, T. Phillips (ed.), pp. 158-59. Munich Prestel, 1995
I have examined this piece and agree with the description.
Niangi Batulukisi , Ph.D.