Saturday, October 22, 2022

Traditional Baskets and other weaving crafts with natural fibers in Uttara Kannada-western Ghat region


While  weaving craft with natural fibers  is one of the widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, it is hard to say just how old the craft is, because natural materials baskets  seldom survive, as they are made from perishable materials like natural fibers ,grass, river reeds, cane ,vine and bamboo 

There are many kind of natural fibers used in Uttra kannada region by our ancestors, local tribes and  communities  .these vegetations are  available abundantly in the nature where they lived .

They used it  for fencing, making shelters like huts and  machans   , making baskets ,ropes , pot holders and pot hangings , tying animals ,caring loads, tying bundles  making jewelries , stringing beads ,  weaving mats, cradles for the new born babies ,traps for fishing etc. Natural fibers were part of  their daily life . weaving techniques are used  to find protection from rain and sun, and to build boundary lines or safety from wild animals and enemies   Most  of the crafts, kitchen and farming utilities were depending on this natural fibers   until  plastics came and took away the importance of this natural fibers

The local story of natural fibers  

Weaving with natural fibers  is a unique rural craft. done by hand and each product has its story weaved in the  local culture

There are many applications for weaving techniques from simple mats, ropes, brooms  to baskets  .Here I have documented various types traditional weaving craft in the cultural context of Uttara Kannada region, Karnataka  Most of them are lost in the plastic and synthetic wave 

halakki women observing cane baskets 

What makes basketry, weaving craft so special is that it has evolved in cultures around the world, as we all collectively found the need to carry things, store items, 

There are a multitude of uses of natural fibers  ranging from sleeping mats to traps meant for catching fish, and they play a prominent role in some religious ceremonies.

Most of them are harvested on a particular season to get the best results. each one has to go through a certain  process to get the final product which can be weaved later

Natural fibers /plants for making  rope,string and twine from western Ghats  :

1.. ನಾರು ಬಳ್ಳಿ /ಕೌರ್ಗಿ  ಗಿಡ  (Helicteres isora  Indian screw tree)

Helicteres isora  Indian screw tree

The best type of isora fibre is obtained when the plants are 1-1.5 years old; the plants older than 2 years yield coarse and brittle fiber.. The best month to harvest is July to September. In costal Karnataka  they harvest in the month of September and the fiber will be ready for the Deepavali festival for the ritual of tying new ropes for the cows .Thin ropes made from these fibres are used  as cordage for making cots, tying cattle and ploughs  The isora fibre has the potential for handicraft products.

.The stem has to be harvested in the month of August or September. The outer plant bark  is peeled off with bare hands for the fiber and soak  in the  flowing water almost 1 month .  This harvest is combined with  a festival called bali padyami Deepavali   which comes in the month of October  That day villages traditionally tie a new rope made by this naaru balli to their cows .   That means harvest has to be done before 1 month of this festival and it is exactly comes in August or September … The bark is also a source of strong fiber used as cordage for making cots, tying cattle and ploughs

 .                          The fiber is called naaru and the rope is called naarina balli 

2. ಕತ್ತಾಳೆ  (Agave sisalana)-Natural fiber thread from Halakki tribe

Kattale /mani daara ಮಣಿ ದಾರ   (Agave sisalana) leaves are quite fibrous and have been used to make rope and twine for thousands of years. In fact, the Inca and Mayan peoples used it extensively: not just for making cordage, but also woven into cloth for garments, hats, footwear, home furnishings, and paper.

Kattale (Agave sisalana)

kattele naaru made by halakki woman 

In Uttara kannda region halakki tribe women wear a heavy bundle of beads in their neck  if you go back to their story of beads you will  be thrilled to know they  used to use natural fiber to make thread to string this beautiful beads . sadly now they are using nylon threads and plastic beads They never bought necklace but beads  and string the beads themselves in a delicately  woven  thread with natural fiber  

Kattale  is a thorny cactus kind of plant which grows in the wild used mainly  for fencing .Halakki tribe women who goes to the forest to collect fire wood pick up 2or 3 of these long leaves which they call it locally  mani hede ( snake like leaf for Beads) There are two verities depending on the colour gray and green they say gray leaf will give more fiber compare to green 

In the rainy season they harvest these leaves and soak it  in the flowing water .When they get time in the summer they take out this leaves which is turned into fiber .they separate the hair like thin strings and weave into thin thread to string their beads .They also use the fresh leaves to retrieve fiber in a traditional way using sharp edged bronze plate by scrubbing the thin flesh on the leaf  

3. Coir rope making 

Coir, otherwise known as coconut fiber, is the natural fibrous material found between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut. Retting is a curing process whereby the husks of the coconut are kept in an environment that encourages the action of naturally occurring microbes.

 Green husks are buried in pits dug along riverbanks, berried  suspended by nets in a river and weighted to keep them submerged. The husks are left to soak for at least six  to nine months.

Hand made coir ropes are disappearing craft on the bank of the sharavati river . 

Weaving brooms from the local grass: hittanade hullu  in kannada (Eriocaulon species) 

It grows in damp soil or shallow water of western Ghat region. Traditionally women weave brooms and baskets with this delicate grass (though the grass  looks delicate it has good tensile strength)  the process is you have to rewove the white head which looks like a  human skull (Burude in kannada ) then the grass  has to be dried in the shade for 3 days until it  turns into golden yellow then weave horizontally  then role it to make  broom.

traditionally these brooms were used to broom the gods room or fire place  now this  beautiful local craft  totally disappeared from the village . heard that they used to make baskets with grass ican just imagine beautiful golden yellow grass  weaved into tiny golden baskets  but never got to see this forgotten craft of making basket 

hittande hidi 

link from my blog :

weaving mats from the local river reeds on the bank of Sharavati river 

 Uttara kannada region has got a unique landscapes has sea ,river forest and western ghat hill ranges .. the art and craft also have its connection with the respective landscape and eco system of this region. People of this land found its own kind of reeds /grass/palm/pine to weave mats. Here we can see 3 types of reeds that are used for mat weaving according to its landscape ; Its interesting to see how the landscape and eco system playing a role in weaving craft. Three kinds of   mats using 4 different species of plants !!such diversity in one region 

  • Mundki hullu (Pandanus unipapilatus) and kedige hullu (Pandanus odorifer)

Both belong to the family of pandanaceous (screw pine family).These are two varieties of thorny bushes/shrubs which grows in Uttara kannada region along river side.and beach side. It also grows near the streams. Both look the same ..Local tribes use both the grass to weave the mats .. Gamokklu tribe from the river side mainly use the

mudki hullu which grows along the river side Halakki tribe from the sea side use kedgi hullu which grows

near the sea side  ..

Mundki hullu

Geykana hullu : (cyperus malaccensis) Cyperaceae

This river reed grows along the Sharavati river bed. Locally it is called Geykana hullu

It is also used as a fodder for the cows .. This river reed is harvested after the monsoon during October or November month until February .Harvesting is normally done by the women .Women themselves take the boat to harvest the grass .After harvesting it has to be dried

before weaving  

Geykana hullu : (cyperus malaccensis) Cyperaceae

  • Echalu mara : palm tree (Phoenix sylvestris)

commonly known as: date-sugar palm, Indian wild date

In Uttara kannada region, deep in the forest siddis ,kare okklu, kumri maratis, deevaru 

women weave mats with special kind of  date palm called Eechalu. The weaving pattern and technique totally

different from sea and river mats 

Palm leaves (Arecaceae spp.) are gloriously fibrous and make a moderately strong for  weaving 

Basket Weaving :

Basketry is a unique rural craft. done by hand and each basket has its story weaved in the  local culture. What makes basketry, weaving craft so special is that it has evolved in cultures around the world, as we all collectively found the need to carry things, store items, find protection from rain and sun, and to build boundary lines or safety from wild animals and enemies Any basket that is woven of natural fibral is a true folk artifact. While modern mass production has all but replaced baskets with plastic and synthetic material.

 1.River reed Geykana hullu : (cyperus malaccensis) Cyperaceae

Hanmi ajji is the only elderly lady from sharavayti river bank who can weave baskets with this river reed 

2.Cane baskets 

Until forest department banned harvesting canes from the forest for essentials  cane baskets were part of their life  the farmers and forest dwellers used to weave baskets for their daily use . it was used as a need and not for the greed baskets were useful for them to carry coconuts, for fishing, for carry manure soil, to store paddy seeds used as a partition in the house

baskets for different purpose and with different design depending on the functional value is a interesting story when you study the baskets of uttra kannada in a cultural ,functional contexts it overwhelming to how the design evolved to make it easier to use 

To harvest arecanut from the tree

mannina butti
normally for rough use like carrying loads like soil manure 

Chooli mutti to collect coconuts 

Baskets were vey essentials for the framers and villagers in their daily life  Unfortunately the forest department in Karnataka banned harvesting cane for the forest dwellers and farmers in Uttra kannada region . and the local craft of basket weaving is fast disappearing .Now you see deep in the forest also  plastic baskets replaced the natural baskets  which looks out of place   

3. Wild Vine basketry-Kurl balli 

In the forest vines have always been readily accessible and plentiful for weavers, they have been a common choice for basketry purposes. The runners are preferable to the vine stems because they tend to be straighter.

In Uttara kannada region the important wild vine  called kurl balli in kannada is harvested fresh and weave into a basket. villagers use this wild vine for different purposes .the use it tie bundles , for fencing it was used like a tough thread for tying poles this was used to make quik containers which was used in kitchen   for arecant picking. storing garlics and dry fish small baskets are mainly used for storing things. its always kept near the chimney where the smoke comes and with the time this baskets turn into black


BuDa folklore is documenting and reviving these natural fibers through educational progrmmes 

Buda folklore Explore the art of traditional basket weaving using the wild vine which can be harvested from the forest of Angadibail. 


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Traditional Baskets and other weaving crafts with natural fibers in Uttara Kannada-western Ghat region

  While  weaving craft with natural fibers  is one of the widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, it is hard to say j...