Skyros’ basket weavers

Traditional craftsmanship in Greece – a workshop on the road, Skyros’ basket weaving Roma people

A workshop on the edge of the road. The trade of a basket weaver can be exercised practically anywhere and needs only few tools. The manual skills of Skyros’ basket weaving Roma people.

Baskets in various sizes made of willow twigs and reed are lined up on the roadside. On a low, old, typically Skyrian chair sits little Maria. Behind her, on a carpet underneath a tree, her grandparents are weaving baskets. They belong to one of the many Roma families that move from village to village to offer their wickerwork. Basket weaving is a traditional craft for some of the Roma groups. Especially in the area of Thessaloniki the Sepečides were based until around 1922. In Greece, their descendants call themselves the basket weaving Roma.

The workshop on the edge of the road

The trade of a basket weaver can be exercised practically anywhere and needs only few tools. The materials required, willow twigs and reed, grow in the wild or are cheaply acquirable. In the past the manual skills of the Roma people were generally recognised in Greece. Only Roma people were weaving baskets, they didn’t have any competitors. Originally the Sepečides were Muslims and moved around the whole of the Ottoman Empire. In the course of the war between Greece and Turkey and the subsequent people’s exchange, Muslims had to leave Greece and Christians Turkey. A share of the Roma people kept their Muslim faith and settled around Izmir in Turkey. The others adopted the Greek Orthodox belief and stayed in Greece.

The island’s universe

In the region the basket weavers still have orders. They repair tavern chairs and sell their baskets to tourists during summer. But they too feel the impact of cheap imports from the Far East and in addition woven baskets are no longer used as transport containers for food. Little Marie’s parents chose a different profession. “My mother works in Athens and my father somewhere on the Peloponnes,” she tells us. Her grandparents are one of the few Roma that still work as basket weavers. The general trend back towards handmade and locally produced objects could have a positive economic effect on the basket weaving Roma and open up new perspectives for Maria’s generation.