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Weaving in the rainforest – Panama

October 29, 2009

It was a usual September morning in Panama City, the sun was beginning to push its way to the streets below, traffic began building as sleepy-eyed commuters inched their way to work, and school buses belched out fumes in protest of their age and overall neglect.

I met Heraldo — an indigenous Indian, coffee lover and super-guide — got into his car and drove off in the opposite direction of the bustle. We were heading towards the Chagre River, a waterway that feeds the Panama Canal, entertains botanists and conservationists worldwide, and is access to a group of Embera Indian villages. It was also where I would be spending the day learning about basket weaving with the plan of bringing some back with me to Panama.

Originally from the remote Darien province near the Colombian border, the Embera tribes moved closer to Panama City decades back, settling in the surrounding rainforest. While the men are skilled carvers and hunters, it’s the women who have gained a reputation over the years for their basket weaving. Certain pieces have been known to sell from $2000 – $11,000 or more in high street stores and private dealers in the US.  Of course these baskets are more than just an object for carrying or holding, they are – objet d’art.

by Cate

by Cate

Time, technique, and age of the weaver contribute largely to the basket’s quality. Each basket tells a story relating to tribal lore and mores, are made from a palm fibre, natural dyes and threaded using a fine point needle. Like other forms of art, the weaver places their logo or signature style on the base of the basket, these baskets are meant to be hung and viewed from all angles.

by JR May

by JR May

After careful budget considerations I decided that this trip would purely be for the fun factor. Plus buying baskets directly from the weavers was also satisfying.  For the less serious art collector — you know, the person who just wants something simple — young Embera women weave plates using a thicker thread, still retaining the patterns and colours, but sell at a real price of $45.

by Cate

by Cate

I’m a big fan of indigenous art and tend to seek out places less known to souvenir hunters. Sometimes, it means a trip down a river in a dug-out canoe, but in the end it’s all about the journey.

Don’t forget to check out the other bloggers @ Delicious Baby for more photo Friday stories.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. October 29, 2009 10:36 pm

    Beautiful shots and I really dig your writing style. Very evocative of place.

  2. October 30, 2009 1:07 am

    Very rich colours. Loved the third one the most. How are these baskets dyed?

  3. October 30, 2009 2:41 am

    Gorgeous colours! And a great, authentic thing to buy… wish I had one!

  4. October 30, 2009 9:58 am

    Nancy – Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    Arun – Hi I’ve sent you an email responding to your question. All dyes are natural and come from seed pods (reds) barks and leaves (yellows browns and greens) and soaking in the river sand overnight (grey and blacks). They also use a sour sugar cane to bleach the fibres before dying.

    Liz – Me too, I have one small one but would like to own a nice museum piece.

  5. October 30, 2009 10:22 am

    Great shots of some truly gorgeous baskets. You are so right, it’s so much more gratifying to buy these works of art directly from the weavers. I would love one too!

  6. October 30, 2009 10:27 am

    Love this post! My degree is in Art History, and I love decorative arts, like glass, textiles, etc. These baskets are beautiful, and I love that your pictures show their rich detail.

  7. October 30, 2009 12:08 pm

    I love those baskets…!!! They are so colorful…

  8. October 30, 2009 1:59 pm

    Maria, Sarah and Marina – thanks ladies for your comments. Something about these baskets and I guess other Indian baskets really captivates and the workmanship is outstanding.

  9. October 30, 2009 2:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story — I appreciate anything that someone took the patience and skill to produce by hand, particularly if there’s a deeper meaning or tradition behind it. These baskets are a beautiful example.

  10. October 30, 2009 3:50 pm

    Those colors are so beautiful. You can see the love and strength woven into each of the products. This is exactly the type of thing that I would pick up as well!

  11. October 30, 2009 6:09 pm

    Beautiful pics, and I loved your post. There is some crazy innate appeal in baskets, I think. They are better than fabric.

  12. October 30, 2009 6:40 pm

    What beautiful photos! The color is gorgeous. It’s always fun getting to be exposed to indigenous art, especially when you can get it from the hands of the artists themselves. I had no idea that pieces could sell for thousands of dollars! Good thing you found some for just $45 🙂

  13. October 30, 2009 6:48 pm

    Those baskets are lovely – I didn’t see anything like that in the rainforest in Ecuador but I did bring back soome lovely painted bowls in shades of black and brown

  14. Carolina permalink
    October 30, 2009 9:46 pm

    You got great shots of these baskets. The best part of this artwork is that it has function, I love the art in my house to also be something that we use and also be beautiful.

  15. October 31, 2009 5:06 pm

    The detail in the basket and variety of natural colours is striking.

  16. November 1, 2009 2:49 pm

    Hi everyone!! thanks for your comments, it looks like we all share similar views, these baskets are gorgeous and the detail in the baskets are amazing to look at.


  17. November 2, 2009 10:19 am

    Beautiful work!
    I love all kinds of baskets and watching basket artisans. The colors, the meticulous artistry, and the story behind a lot of the traditional baskets…each country/culture seems to have their own variations.

  18. November 2, 2009 4:46 pm

    Thanks Dominique!

  19. November 3, 2009 10:01 am

    Do you have any idea how long it takes to create one of these baskets? Beautiful workmanship.

  20. November 3, 2009 2:09 pm

    Hi Heather
    I think it depends on the weaver and the size of the basket. Some will take an average of three weeks and the bigger more artistic ones ca take up to 11 months.

Comments are closed.