Basketry and Woodcarving

In addition to elaborate textiles and garments, women also spent a great deal of time weaving sturdy baskets for daily chores and activities. Crafted from the soft inner bark of the elm and linden trees, saranip carrying baskets are used to gather vegetables, medicinal herbs, and many other goods. After boiling and processing the bark to make it pliable, saranip are then woven by attaching the thick, soft, vertical fibers of the warp to the bottom of the basket, then weaving them through the thin, twined horizontal weft. At the top of the basket, the ends of the warp are then braided to form the distinctive “looped” pattern (kimaha) around the basket’s upper rim, before a braided handle is added at the very end for carrying convenience.1 (For an illustration of the weaving process, see Sketch of Ainu Woman Making Basket by Elizabeth Keith).

Just as women traditionally distinguished themselves through their abilities to weave baskets and embroider textiles, Ainu men used carving to demonstrate their skills and artistry. All carvings were done with the makiri—a short knife worn at the side at all times—and carved objects served important ceremonial, social, and utilitarian functions. In contrast to the taboo on explicitly showing human and animal forms in other works of art, carved ritual ikupasuy “prayer sticks” and sapaunpe head ornaments often sport ornate animal and plant designs in addition to more abstract patterns.2 Like women’s woven textiles, woodcarving played an important social function for men, as showing off the intricate, self-carved makiri handle and tobacco pipe allowed them the chance to display their handiwork. Even utilitarian goods like bowls and spoons, which were simpler and plainer than the more ornate ceremonial objects, were still carved with fine patterns and great attention to detail, which can be seen on this carved rurkasup spoon, which sports a simple yet graceful design and carved notches on its handle.3

1.) Nelson Graburn and Molly Lee, “Saranip and Tenki: Ainu Basketry and North Pacific Affinities,” in Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, 304.

2.) Chisato Dubreuil “Ainu Art: The Beginnings of Tradition,” in Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, 297.

3.) Toshihiro Kohara, “Foods of Choice,” in Fitzhugh, Dubreuil, and Arctic Studies Center, Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, 205.

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