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Author: Michigan State University Museum

Baskets (Finjaan Gaar)
Name of Maker: Amina Ismail Sherif
Ethnic Affiliation: Harari
Date of Production: ca. 1993
Locale: unknown
Country: Ethiopia
Dimensions: h. 11.5 inches
Media: plant fiber, pigments
Collector(s) / Donor(s): Raymond Silverman & Neal Sobania
MSUM Accession #: 7557.274.1 & 7557.274.2
The Collector(s) / Donor(s)
Raymond Silverman, curator of “African Connections,” is an associate professor of art history at Michigan State University. He also serves as adjunct curator for the African collections housed in the University’s two museums. From 1979 to 1989 his research was focused in the West African countries of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, and from 1990 to the present, in Ethiopia. This object is one of several hundred artifacts that Silverman and Sobania commissioned and collected in the course of conducting research for the 1994 Michigan State University Museum exhibition, Ethiopia: Traditions of Creativity.
Collector(s) / Donor(s) Statement: Silverman
Neal Sobania is Professor of History and Director of International Education at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. After spending three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia, he returned to graduate school, completing a Ph.D. at the University of London dealing with the history of the Dassanetch peoples of northern Kenya. Since his Peace Corps experience in Ethiopia in the late 1960s, he has been a avid collector of African material culture and possesses a significant collection of Ethiopian and Kenyan artifacts. For the last eight years, he and Silverman have been collaborating on a number of projects dealing with the visual cultures of Ethiopia.
Collector(s) / Donor(s) Statement: Sobania
The Object(s)
Harar is an ancient walled city in eastern Ethiopia. Formerly, all Harari girls, as part of growing up, learned to weave baskets. In fact, before marrying, a young woman is expected to produce a set of specific types of baskets that she brings to her marriage as a form of dowry. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, these baskets function as utilitarian objects serving as covers for wooden and pottery containers, and as containers themselves. They also play an important role as markers of a woman’s social status. Upon entering a Harari house, one encounters a public sitting area whose walls are covered with baskets and other containers owned by the woman-of-house. Specific types of baskets represent different events in the a woman’s life and these are positioned in specific locations on the walls. Thus, one can “read” the arrangement of baskets and learn a good deal about a woman–whether or not she is married, whether she is widowed, how many of her sons are married, as well as the the relative prosperity of the household. Formerly, all women might have spent a few hours a day weaving baskets as part of their daily routine. But today, most Harari girls pursue a primary and secondary school education, which does not leave them enough time to learn to weave these baskets. Since the demand for marriage baskets still exists, a number of women, like Amina Ismail Sherif, have become professional, full-time basketmakers. This pair of baskets were produced for Michigan State University Museum by Amina in 1993. They are a type of basket known as finjaan gaar, a small lidded container used for holding candy, gum, or incense.
Further Information
Books and Articles
Elisabeth-Dorothea Hecht. “Basketwork of Harar.” African Study Monographs [Kyoto], Supplement (18), 1992.
Elisabeth-Dorothea Hecht. “The City of Harar and the Traditional Harar House.” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 15 1982: 57-78.
Sidney R. Waldron. “Harari.” Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, edited by Richard V. Weekes, 313-19. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1984.
Sidney R. Waldron. “Harar: The Muslim City in Ethiopia.” Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Session B, edited by Robert L. Hess, 239-57. Chicago: Office of Publications Services, University of Illinois, Chicago Circle Campus, 1979.
Richard Wilding. “Harari Domestic Architecture.” Art and Archaeology Research Papers 9 1976: 31-37.

Ahmed Zekeria. “A Harari Art: Basketry Through the Eyes of Amina Ismael Sherif.” Ethiopia: Traditions of Creativity, edited by R. Silverman, pp. 46-63, 258. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999.

Internet Resources

Artist Profile for Adamu Tesfaw from Ethiopia: Traditions of Creativity

Richard Wilding. “Harari Domestic Architecture.” Art and Archaeology Research Papers 9 1976: 31-37.