Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Basket cases in Norwich

9 September, 2009 - 12:52 -- John Burton

This week has been more hectic than is usual -- even by World Land Trust standards. We have been to University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich to discuss a research programme we are establishing with our partners in Paraguay and the University. We also met with representatives of the World Art department who are particularly interested in my personal ethnographic collections, as they are hosting a major international conference on basketry in the modern world, in 2011.

The basketry I have been collecting in Paraguay is of particularly fine workmanship. It is made by the indigenous living in the Chaco, and they make it from the fibres extracted from bromeliad leaves. It is a sort of hybrid between weaving, basketry and crochetry, with beautiful patterns created with vegetable dyes. It is incredibly labour intensive at all stages of creation -- collecting the leaves, stripping out the fibres, spinning the fibres, dying them and then weaving all takes a long time.

Already baskets are largely being made for sale to tourists, but as standards of living rise and plastic bags become more common, this form of basket making is a craft I predict will die out fairly rapidly.

More about the UEA Basketry project

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