Plaited Mats

1525066-1233340-thumbnail.jpgUganda mats are exquisite. I was able to study two types: plaited palm leaf mats and Nubian mats made from a plant fiber called dis and palm leaf.

The plaited palm mats are ubiquitous throughout southern Uganda, their use extends from tourist products in market stalls to covering the floor of the Kasubi Tombs. “Mats were used and are still used for bedding, as screens within the huts, for sitting on in the houses, for wrapping personal possessions when traveling, for spreading grain foods on when the later is being sun dried” (Rose Mwanja, Uganda Museum). The more elaborate and complex mats are set aside for guests and special needs; culturally, they carry meaning through their function on the floor. They are rolled tightly and placed in the corners of homes, a sign of whether the owner is a married man. In an interview, Nakitende Aida stated that every Bugandan woman must have a mat in her home to receive her guests on, demonstrating this traditional sign of respect that is expected in many households. These same mats are to lay the deceased on before burial; they are made and given as wedding gifts, assuring each household holds these elements of beauty. These are among the many, traditional uses for mats that are present throughout households from villages to the suburbs of Kampala.

The Nubian dis mats are unique in their patterning but similar in their function. As you will see from the images below, their patterns do not repeat throughout, yet they display a beautiful a symmetry.

Alongside the function of each type of mat, they have evolved for economic and social purposes. Items such as table mats, cushions, hats, money purses, handbags, winnow trays, tea trays, belts, bracelets, and many more, have developed into commodities for the growing tourist and export market.

As I began to meet artisans and participate in the process of plaiting dried palm leaves and dis into mats, my appreciation of their intricacies and function grew. Each picture gallery focuses on an individual or group of mat makers - keep in mind this is just a selection from the many mat makers I had the privilege of meeting.

(Pictured above is Petronia Kulabako Ssekisamu from the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria)