Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Basketry of the Philippines

Illustration: Various forms of Philippine basketry, 1913.

The Philippines is a diverse and varied archipelago made up of hundreds of islands with dozens of mutually exclusive and overlapping cultural heritages. It is no surprise then that basketry within the islands is a craft skill that is both as varied and individual as the islands and the cultures that inhabit them.

Basketry making in most regions of the world has always been a practical necessity before any other consideration. As far as possible local and abundant materials were used, rather than those that were rare and difficult to obtain. In the Philippines, bamboo and various palms were endemic to the region and therefore much of the basketry work was produced using these abundant resources. However, these were by no means the only resources, only the most common. Many varieties of raw material have been used for generations throughout the archipelago.

Illustration: Philippine market baskets, 1913.

Baskets came in all shapes and sizes, but larger carrying baskets, very often transported on top of the head, seemed particularly popular and could be used to transport produce to local markets as well as the collection of firewood, etc. However, the diverse and flexible craft skill of basketry was also used for a whole range of domestic uses from fish traps to matting and room dividers. 

It is often thought that because basketry is one of the earliest of human craft skills, it is also one of the most rudimentary. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Basket-making is a complex weaving skill that takes technical and creative expertise. A fundamental and intrinsic understanding of form, practical purpose and the application of relevant raw materials was an absolute necessity for any basket weaver. What basket weavers the world over took for granted for countless generations as a practical and guiding principle of their craft skill, that form follows function, was paraded by European architects and designers of the twentieth century as a revelation of modern times.

Illustration: Diverse uses of Philippine basketry, 1913.

Basketry is a singular craft skill with each individual approaching the medium in a slightly different way from the next basket weaver. This approach has always allowed for a relatively wide variety of technique and creative input, usually in the form of decoration. Decoration itself serves no real or practical purpose in the day to day domestic use of basketry, but as elsewhere, Philippine weavers have added decorative effects from the simplest pattern work for everyday use, to the much more complex and eye catching basketry that could either used as a form of status or as a ceremonial gift. Some decoration has obviously been formed through cultural or religious tastes and requirements, though it would be wrong to think that there was never room for a personal and creative input, however small, by the weaver themselves.

Illustration: Basket weaver producing a pack basket, 1913.


YanniCreations said...

I grew up with abundance of woven baskets (Granddad was a rattan and bamboo weaver, Grandma was an ikat and ethnic blanket weaver). It's sad though that when they passed away, no one in the family carried on the craft.

It's nice of you to have captured the beauty of the process of basket making, it's complexity and colorful history.

(North Philippines)

John hopper said...

Thank you for your comment. It is always good to hear from someone with first hand experience of local craft skills. However, as you say, it is sad that so many are being left behind and are not being continued by following generations.