Hosig Di baskets of Panama’s Wounaan and Embera Indians are the finest baskets in the world today. These two Indian tribes of the Darien rainforest in Panama use locally found native materials and weave precise, even, small stitches with complex designs incorporating the flora and fauna of the rainforest or time tested traditional geometric designs.
Two fibers are used to construct each basket. The inner core of the coils is made from Nahuala , the same fiber used to make the famous “Panama Hats”. Around this coil, Chunga is woven to make up the intricate designs. Chunga is the palm frond fiber of the black palm tree which grows in moist tropical lowland forests. Only the new emerged palm frond is used to make change. Often 10 feet long, this spear is stripped of the fiber, washed, dried, and then dyed using natural materials from the rainforest. It may take 2 or 3 trees to make enough chunga for one small basket.
Once the material are ready a skilled weaver with take several strands of Nahuala and tie an overhand knot in the end to start the process. This is called the navel. The weaving can then begin using a single strand of Chunga of the selected color, covering the coil of nahuala with fine, even stitches until the “seat” is completed. This is the flat bottom part of the basket. Often a decorative design used only by the weaver will be used to decorate the seat. The decorative design of the basket can now begin and may take many months for a small basket and years for larger more elaborate baskets.
We are asked why the baskets cost as much as they do. It is small wonder that they do not cost more due to the time involved in collecting the materials, preparing them for weaving and then making the baskets over great lengths of time.
It is the women of these two tribes that make these beautiful baskets. Only in the past few years have a few men tried to learn the age old process. I have only seen two baskets made by men both of which were well made and technically good. It remains to be seen whether more men will take up this traditional women art form.