After stating recently that I prefer small souvenirs, here is my admission that I'm still subject to the lure of buying distinctive baskets every once in awhile AND when I buy them, I seldom actually use them. They're too beautiful. Whew … glad to get that off my chest!
The thing is, good quality baskets are unique and usually representative of a substantial piece of a woman's individual work and time. I like to buy baskets directly from their makers because I think I benefit from the good vibes that come with them and the weaver gets to keep all the profits from her labors.
We've purchased baskets from the Wounaan in Panama and the Embera in the Darien Jungle. We've watched women use natural dyes to color the reeds they're using and weave intricate patterns in baskets with weaves so tight and fine, the baskets could actually hold water.
Basket weavers use whatever reeds or grasses are available in their area. Palms and reeds are used in the Carib and Panama. In Peru, it was totora reeds. In the South Pacific, they utilize pandanus palm fronds ripped into thin strips and then dried. Though some weavers make baskets and woven goods for sale to tourists, more simple ones are used locally for carrying produce to and from market.
One Caribbean weaver told us that she “collects reeds for baskets only at the dark side of the moon and at low tide, otherwise they'll be bug-infested.” We asked where she'd heard that and she said, “That's something everybody knows!”. Interestingly enough, when I consulted the Old Farmer's Almanac, it stated “From full Moon through the last quarter, or the dark of the Moon, is the best time for killing weeds, thinning, pruning, mowing, cutting timber, and planting below-ground crops.” I guess cutting reeds and grasses for baskets fall into that category. More interesting is that this “old wives' tale” is known by weavers everywhere we've visited. Must be some truth to it.
We received two beautiful covered pandanus baskets from Brenda on Pitcairn Island as parting gifts, made by her mum, Mag Christian, the oldest person on Pitcairn. Talk about rare treasure!
Sometimes, you just can't resist having something beautiful and non-functional on board. Okay … okay ... and we've bought some carvings, too. Not many, but a few. Man, it's good to get all this out in the open.