I didn’t start out as a collector of handwoven baskets. My collection grew out of my introduction to the land and culture of the Tswana people in Botswana in 1983. Baskets there are functional as well as artifacts of the culture. The national museum in Gaborone held yearly exhibitions and sales of these beautiful baskets, and small shops throughout the country sold them to citizens and visitors alike.
When I shared these baskets with friends back home, they introduced me to the sweetgrass baskets of the Gullah people in South Carolina and contemporary baskets from Lonaberger in Ohio. With my work and travels in Latin America, I added baskets from Chile and Guatemala to my collection.
What made me think about baskets today? It was reading about the black ash baskets of the indigenous peoples of the United States. It is from a chapter, called “Wisgaak Gokpenagen: A Black Ash Basket”, in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed Editions, 2013). If you are looking for something to read this summer, I highly recommend this book.
The publisher describes the book as follows:
As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to this land, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as “the younger brothers of creation.” As she explores these themes, she circles toward a central argument: the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the world. Once we begin to listen for the languages of other beings, we can begin to understand the innumerable life-giving gifts the world provides us and learn to offer our thanks, our care, and our own gifts in return.
Braiding Sweetgrass is part botany lessons, part wisdom about farming, part memoir of a mother and her two daughters, part history of indigenous people of the United States, part theological reflection, and all poetry. The five sections of the book are woven (pun intended) around sweetgrass: planting, tending, picking, braiding, and burning sweetgrass. Each section has about six or seven essays on topics related to the overall theme of the book. It’s hard to pick favorites. The titles are inviting and, so far, do not disappoint: The Gift of Strawberries, Learning the Grammar of Animacy, Maple Sugar Moon, Allegiance to Gratitude, Epiphany in the Beans, The Three Sisters (which are corn, beans, and squash!) This is a long book (390 pages) meant to be savored for the whole summer growing season, and maybe into harvest time as well.
Now, back to my online search for black ash baskets of the Potawatomi people!