Basket making: An ancient craft that refuses to die, makes Nsukka people millionaires

Like crude oil or black gold as it is popularly known, everything that comes out of palm tree is used for one important thing or the other.  In fact, there is a popular Igbo adage that has it that nothing that comes out of palm tree is totally a waste, it is either recycled or used for another vital thing.

So, from the root of the palm tree to the palm fronts, they are being used for one particular important thing or the other.

One of such bye products of palm trees is basket.

WITHIN NIGERIA gathered that basket making is as old as the world itself. It has remained one of the ancient crafts which has refused to die or go into extinction. Even with the advancement of modern technology leading to alternative to baskets;  thousands of people still make a living out of basketry.

Even with the social stratification attached with those who engage in this craft, the art and skills remain one of the biggest employers of labour particularly in Nsukka zone.

Face to face with the basket makers

Over the week, our reporter visited  Ohom Orba, in Udenu local government area of Enugu state, where hundreds of men and youths eke out a living from basketry.

Basket makers in Nsukka

Our reporter gathered that the skill has remained alternative means of livelihood for those who cannot get white collar job. It was revealed that baskets are of different sizes for different types of uses. Usually the one for conveying tomatoes from Northern parts of the country is the biggest size.

Our reporter also gathered that contrary to the popular opinion that it was for school leavers, graduates also go into the basketry while waiting for the better job opportunity.

One of the basket makers Samuel Eze told our reporter that he has been in basketry for more than fifteen years.

” I have been in this basket making for fifteen years now. Before now, all the basket makers in the village converged in one centre to make their baskets. They shared everything together. But today, it is no longer like that. Each and everyone of us now has a centre where we make our individual baskets. This is because many customers now come from far away Katsina, Kaduna, Kano and other far Northern parts of Nigeria for the product and we have to meet up with their demand.”

Asked how many baskets he can make in a day, the 62 year old grand father told Within Nigeria that he can make more than ten baskets every day if the materials are available.
“If I have all the materials available, I can make more than ten baskets a day.”

On the process of getting the materials for basket making Eze said that” you know it is a hard work and you have to climb the palm trees to cut down palm fronts, process the raw materials before you can start making the baskets. The one I make is used to carry tomatoes down from Jos Kaduna, Kano, Gombe and other northern states where tomatoes are being cultivated in a very large commercial quantities. Though the materials are available, nobody owns the palm trees as far as getting the raw materials is concerned. One thing about palm trees is nothing from the tree is a waste. Each time we get the palm fronts, we get another bye-product like broom which is also another source of income to our children or women who process it.”

On the lucrativeness of the basketry, Mr. Eze told our reporter that ” the price of basket is very poor. Each one is currently being sold at N200. Though the price fluctuates, the highest price you can get is N250 especially from June each year. This is because the months of April, May and June each year are the peak of the basket making. This is because these are the months when tomatoes are being transported with baskets from Northern states to other parts of the country.”

Asked what he has achieved with basket making since more than a decade he has being in the art, he explained that ” before I started making baskets, I didn’t have any house of my own. I didn’t build any house. But you can see four rooms apartment in my compound now. I built it with the proceeds I got from basket making. Apart from that, I have also bought motorbike which we are using today with what I realized from basket making. I have also trained my children in secondary schools with basket making. So, I have been able to make remarkable achievement with basketry.”

On how the skill is being learnt, he explained to our reporter that earlier before now, some little amount was charged on the apprentice.
“But today, there is no such fee. Any one who wishes to acquire the skill just approaches any of the basket makers and he will be taught the art free of charge.”

Another basket maker, Jonathan Ugwu also from Orba told our reporter that he started making basket when he was in secondary school.
” I started making baskets when I was in secondary school. My focus now is that after making the baskets for the next three years, I will save some money and use it to establish small business. ”

The 23 years old Ugwu said that since he can make at least fifteen baskets a day, he can as well save over one hundred thousand naira  from basketry every year and this will help him set up small scale business to compliment what he’s getting from the basket.

Our visit to Obollo-Afor market

When our reporter visited Obollo-Afor market in Udenu LGA some long vehicles were seen loading the products for an onward transportation to Kano, Kaduna and Katsina states, there was a sea of baskets of varying sizes in tens of warehouses in the market.

However, in a chat with the Vice chairman of Baskets Dealers Association, Obollo-Afor, Mr. Collins Odo, it was learnt that basket business is a good business with full of financial risks.

“I have been in this basket business for over fifteen years now. One thing about this business is that the demand is always there as long as cultivation and transportation of tomatoes and other farm produce from North is taking place in many northern States, but not without financial risks. Most of our buyers are from far northern part of Nigeria. We have neither seen nor come across them. It is being sold through proxy. Most of the times you send baskets worth N2m to somebody you have not seen in your life. Many a time, these northerners will just run away with your money. Sometimes, because tomato season has stopped, they will not pay you your money. Many of them will just change their phone numbers and you will just lose your money like that. The worse is that if you say you will not sell on credit, many of your colleagues will be ready to sell to them on credit because they are our target market.”

Narrating further the challenges faced by the dealers, Mr. Odo stressed that there is too much levies and taxation on basket dealers.

” As I am talking to you now, we pay ESWAMA fee, Produce fee, and so many other taxes to local and state governments. Before now, some of those taxes were being borne by the baskets makers but through the intervention of our association, these baskets makers were exempted from those taxation.”

Another dealer, Mr. Ephraim Onu told our reporter that the business has spoilt by so much credit attached to it.
” The business is a bit okay, but for so much credit attached to it. Some of us have lost millions of naira to this business because those we supplied the product to in northern Nigeria have run away with our money.”

However, despite all the financial risks attached to baskets business and low revenue that accrues from basket making, the art and basket has refused to go into extinction because according to the vice chairman of the association of dealers,” for now, there is no other thing with which tomatoes, okra and other farm produce can be packaged from far away Gombe, Katsina, Kano or other northern states to various parts of the country.”

By and large, according to one basket maker in Orba who gave his name as Uchenna Ugwuoke ” it is better to be in basketry than to go a borrowing or be completely idle.”

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