Sewing an African tradition

By Dawn Baker - email | bio

RICEBORO, GA (WTOC) –  We see baskets all the time. We use them to store things or just add a little something to a room. As we celebrate Black History Month, we're learning more about the art of making those baskets.

While most of us call it basket weaving, I found two gentlemen at the Geechee Kunda Cultural Center in Riceboro who are masters. They say what they do is not weaving they are sewing.

"This is one of the oldest cultural art traditions in the world and it is going strong. We do a strong pure African form sweet grass basket just the way we did it in Gambia it's alive well and flourishing," Jim Bacote boasts.

He and Greg Grant pride themselves in staying authentic, only using sweet grass and palmetto like the Africans.

"Originally when they first started, they were using the rib bone of cows," Greg Grant explains. "It went from there to other materials. My favorite is a piece of deer antler that has been shaped. They also use nails and spoons shaped into sewing instruments. The way this is done you use your bone and separate the material, but you have to be very careful when you penetrate that you do not cut one of the other pieces of thread. The palmetto is both a needle and a thread. The stitch I am doing is a binding that holds the material together because the palmetto is anywhere from three to five feet long. Then it adds a little more strength in the tightness of the basket."

He showed us how to make a three inch candy dish. It will take him an hour and a half to finish it. If properly cared for, Grant says these baskets can last 100 years. The Africans brought this tradition with them to America.

"In Savannah on East Broad and Liberty Street, you had African men sewing baskets in 1940 who spoke of sewing sweet grass baskets in their families for 4 generations that's going back into the 1800's," Jamal Toure' adds.

"By doing this, we are keepers of the culture. Maybe I can inspire someone else," Grant said.

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