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Family in a Laos
Katu elder weaving a new backpack basket in Salavan Province, Laos. He is wearing a western style knit hat due to the cold (only about 80° /27° C)


While women are almost exclusively the textile weavers of the hilltribe cultures, men most often are the basket makers. Often the older men, by virtue of the less physically demanding requirements, can be found cutting the bamboo or rattan into long strips and then weaving the pliable green strips in to a variety of basket shapes and sizes.

Once woven, many bamboo and rattan carrying baskets are hung on the homes’ rafters for up to a year where the daily hearth’s smoke seasons them. The smoke not only strengthens the rattan, granting it flexibility when dry, but also gives the baskets, once the accumulated creosote has been rubbed off, a warm and beautiful patina. The smoked baskets are considered to be of greater beauty and value.

Depending on the individual artist, the culture, and the baskets’ purpose, baskets may be plain and practical, woven of a single color and strip-width, or complex and decorative, woven with patterns of dyed strip colors, varying widths and materials, and unusual design lines. Pieces of wood are often woven onto the frame to lift the basket off the floor and create greater strength of form.

The peoples of the Central Highlands of Vietnam are especially renown for their elaborate and decorative baskets.

Baskets are used regularly in all ethnic groups, and can be roughly divided into three categories:

Carrying baskets take food to and from the fields or market, ferry small children, or hold berries or greens. These baskets have shoulder, belt or forehead straps made of vines, hemp, or bark for weight distribution.
Large storage baskets protect food and clothing from dust, insects and rodents. These are often double or triple walled, and have tight fitting shallow lids often tied on with hemp twine.
Small baskets are used to hold cooked rice or tobacco, caught fish. These baskets have tight fitting overlapping woven lids, or, in the case of fishing baskets, a cone shaped insert.

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