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)
Mpigi, Uganda (4)I first met up with Ninah Kinene from Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd,who took me to the home of Nankya Martha (in red shirt), Nakauri Teopista, and Nakaggwa Dorothy (white shirt) near Mpigi. Beginning with gathering the palm leaf to plaiting the mat, these images will give you only a glimpse of the process of mat making.
A unique development in mats has been the creation of text. These mats are made for special occasions and to be hung on the wall, quite different from their original function on the floor. Nantongo Harriet displayed a colorful mat for "Megan L. Piatt [from the] MSK [Masaka] Elders."
Baale, Uganda (5)Nakaraanzi Gaudensia and Nasaazi Leonanta are a part of 10 local mat makers, whose innovations in design and excellence in craft set their work apart from other artisans. This set of images shows the brilliant range of patterning as well as the various stages of a mat as it is created.
Mama Banura demonstrated the intricacies of plaiting palm and dis together to create these distinctive patterns throughout each mat.