Belize. The Maya. The art of basket weaving

Mayan arts and crafts are an exclusive manifestation of their lifestyle and dominant culture. Their skills and talents prove that they were an advanced civilization that developed technologies, ideas, concepts, designs, and architecture that still amaze us today.

There have been discoveries of elaborate Mayan sculptures, artifacts, paintings, pottery, and innovative creations and designs. Like all civilizations, Mayan life focused on the production, harvesting, and preservation of food.

They were advanced in the field of agriculture, as they planted corn, beans, tomatoes and other items that were vital to their survival. As a part of the daily routine, items such as food and spices, tortillas and seeds would have to be properly stored and secured for future use.

Like with many other daily challenges, the Mayas developed the skill of basket weaving as a solution to the preservation of foodstuff and perishable items. As the name eludes, basket weaving is the process of weaving unspun fibres into the shape of a basket.

Using the “jippa jappa“, the Maya’s weave baskets of assorted sizes, one regular-size basket takes about four days to complete. The “jippi jappa” is a plant that grows wild and abundant in the rainforest, it resembles a type of palm.

When weaving a light-coloured basket, closed palm-like leaves are used, darker coloured baskets use open leaves. Using a knife or sharp object, the centre (core) of the leaf is removed to expose the fibres. The fibres are tied together at the bottom eight in a bunch and then boiled for five to ten minutes to prevent fungi growth. They are then washed and dried in the sun. Once this process is complete, the weaving begins.

Basket weaving, unlike many other crafts, has never been modernized. Though it has been attempted, no modern invention has ever been able to replicate the quality of a hand-woven basket. For this reason, one must appreciate those Mayan’s today who still possess and practice this craft. Baskets range in shape, size and design. Some baskets are very small in diameter, three or four inches. Larger baskets range from twelve to eighteen inches in diameter and can stand two to three feet tall. Some baskets have covers, others don’t.

Basket weaving starts from the base. After the base is created, the frame structure is added. The desired height of the basket will determine how tall the frame support should be. It requires approximately eight “jippi jappa” plants to make one basket.

The fibres are interwoven among the base as the weaver makes her way upward to the rim of the basket. Using colorful wool, designs are sewn into the sides of the baskets to add to its beauty.

Today, these baskets are still very popular as they serve very functional purposes. Smaller baskets may be used to store jewelry, trinkets, buttons, coins and any other small items. Larger baskets may be used to store vegetables and other consumable items.

In many homes, hand-woven baskets are used as ornaments and decorations. Many Mayan women, young and old, still weave baskets for home use. The practice has been passed down from the original Mayan civilizations, and as it is still being used today it will be passed on to generations that follow. (Photo: 123rf) – (Julio Saqui)

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