Aborigine Basketry in Venezuela’s Handcraft Culture

Humanity has always used containers. Historically it could have been useful a shell or a pumpkin, but, soon had to find an easier way to transport the fruits of the harvest, hunting and fishing. Baskets allowed people a method to leave hands free. Anthropologists, archaeologists and textile arts specialists agree that basketry was a universal practice throughout history.

It would be difficult to list all of the various uses that have been given to baskets amongst indigenous communities in Venezuela. Basketry has played a very important role in the creation of ceremonial objects. Baskets inspired, musical instruments, crowns, cups and dresses, whose complex designs relate to creation myths and ancestral peoples.

Our ethnic basketry has been recognized for its beauty, design and technical diversity. All of these things: rooted in the heritage of our indigenous people.

Archaeological research confirms this, since depictions of basketry are frequently found pieces of pre-Columbian in regions like

  • The Lower Orinoco,
  • The Western plains, 
  • Cumarebo in the state of Falcon, 
  • In the basin of the Maracaibo lake in the state of Zulia,
  • In Boconó in state of Trujillo or 
  • In the Quibor Valley state of Lara, amongst other areas.

Archaeologists have observed the extraordinary knowledge possessed by Venezuelan Pre-Hispanic societies in terms of the use of materials and techniques for making baskets and mats. 

The stories of travellers and observers who visited Venezuela chronicled the wide variety of uses, techniques and materials, highlighting the abundance of different plant species which were used to make baskets and for this purpose were subjected to processes of cutting, drying and dyeing.

This basket weaver needed to have a deep knowledge of the life of the palms, vines, roots, Corozos, buds, moriche, cumare, seje, cucurito, chiquichique, bark and vines used in the production of baskets.

A basket weaver needed to have manual dexterity necessary to twist, interbreed, roll up, weave, sew, fold and tie hundreds, thousands of wefts and warps. In addition, they needed to have; the patience and concentration to conceptualize the most beautiful and intricate graphic patterns.

In the past, the colours used to dye baskets, were made with natural plants and substances but in contemporary times we, have seen the emergence of new industrial paints and dyes. This is evident in the baskets where besides the traditional red and black colors, new industrial colors, such as green, purple and blue have been introduced into the designs.

However, there are still baskets decorated with designs that do not incorporate these modern colours. The drawings are formed in accordance with the direction of the warp and weft elements and it ends looking like tissue.

Virtual designs arise from the subtle difference in color produced by weaving glossy strips of the outside of tirite, with the rustic and yellowish of the inside of the fiber. Some observers argue that in contemporary times basketry has fallen into disuse in practical terms.

 From this viewpoint, basketry barely looks like it consists of the weaving and single fold of elementary fibres to construct an object or container. However, it also needs to be noted that it is very difficult to find a home in which there is no utilitarian or decorative basket fulfilling functions.

Also, when you consider this craft, it is impossible not to experience a feeling of admiration for the objects produced indigenous or peasant hands, that are so talented at producing objects that provide so much aesthetic pleasure.

 In the peasant economy, various kinds of baskets and containers of decorative nature are produced. 

Although they are made with traditional techniques, the variety of shapes and designs have changed in light of new models and designs.

A design that involves the weaving of hard fibres, what we call baskets, demonstrates how the eye, hand and even the weaver`s teeth are able to produce an object that reflects the beauty, order, balance and proportions. Basket makers are always prepared to multiply the uses for this ancient art.

In Venezuela, basketry is one of the few ancient occupations that has survived into contemporary times.

Their forms and traditional uses of these baskets, beyond the memory itself, have been well- preserved in rural areas and basket weaving constitutes an important handicraft occupation and is often still related to subsistence activities. 

Through the weaving technique, the most beautiful baskets and bags are produced throughout the country. These bags and baskets are used primarily for the loading, storing or for the collection of coffee, cocoa, corn, beans and fruits.

I think that ethno- botany should be studied in order to understand the plants that provide the fiber that are used in basketry. We should attempt to ensure their preservation, also promoting popular handicraft workshops that preserves cultural practices for future generations.

Article kindly supplied by Jesus Rojas, Venezuela

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