This basket is a good example of the exchange of ideas and techniques among Native American peoples, as it was made by a woman of Native American ancestry from eastern Canada, but who learned to make baskets in the Southeast Woodlands, which is a region of the Southeastern United States. Cultures from the Southeast region, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Coushatta, have long utilized the local longleaf pine needles as material for making baskets. Ancient cultures used different types of grasses to bind the pine needles together, but the importation of palm trees to the Southeast has made raffia palm leaves easily available, and Native artisans have adopted this strong fiber for their traditional basketry. The round shape of the pine needle basket closely resembles Cherokee-style serving trays, as does the raffia pinwheel design in the center.
Among the Ye’kuana peoples of southern Venezuela, both men and women weave baskets. While the men of this culture produce some fancy woven baskets, they make larger quantities of simply woven flat baskets like this large round basket, as these are used for the processing of yucca, an important starchy vegetable. Properly woven round baskets must have a regular shape and must be sturdy in order to be functional; men are not considered to be ready for marriage until they are able to produce a properly made basket.
This fine basket was produced by the weavers of the Tarahumara, or Rarámuri, peoples of northwestern Mexico. The Tarahumara use many different fibers to create elaborate and beautifully made baskets, including yucca, sotol, pine needles, and nolina grass. Not only are Tarahumara baskets tightly woven, but they utilize a fine twill weave, which creates an attractive herringbone pattern on the surface. Further, this basket is double-walled—a particularly difficult technique, but one that creates a sturdy, durable, and protective container for food storage.
The Emberá and Wounaan cultures, who live in the Darien Rainforest of Panama and Colombia, are renowned throughout the world for their mastery of basketry. This small container is a good example of a Hösig Di basket, which is a geometric-patterned basket developed by the Emberá-Wounaan female artisans in the late 20th century for the tourist-trade. Elaborate geometric patterns based on body painting designs are created on the baskets using dried chunga palm fibers that are wrapped around naguala palm fibers.
After the success of the geometric-patterned Hösig Di basket in the late 20th century, the Emberá-Wounaan were encouraged to develop even more elaborate, complex designs in the baskets that they make for the tourist trade. This basket illustrates the creativity and skill of the artist, with its stylized but clearly identifiable toucans, owls, and red flowering plants. Unfortunately, the wild popularity of these and other chunga palm fiber baskets have now led to the endangerment of this vital rainforest tree.
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu