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Basketry

Contributed by Turathuna Bethlehem University on 07.11.2006:



Various basketry articles from the Sinjil area north of Ramallah, 1960s. From left to right: a tray (tabaq); a bowl; a wall decoration with a pocket for trinkets; and a trinket box (quteh). The latter two articles are decorated with floss silk.

After the wheat had been threshed, women selected the longer, unbroken stalks for basket- making an activity reserved for winter when there was little work to be done in the fields. Women often sat around the fireplace, working their straw objects with rhythm and great artistry, and produced a colorful range of functional and luxury containers and trays.

The wheat stalks were soaked in a large copper basin (laqan) filled with water which made them flexible, and throughout the basket -making process the stalks were kept damp by being covered with a humid cloth. Other stems, reserved for decoration, were soaked in red, green, purple, and orange dyes.

The work began by plaiting together three straw stalks ,making a coil round which other stalks were bound and twisted to make a spiral . Then holes were made in a spiral with a pointed metal tool (mikhraz), and straw stems were pushed through, building them up evenly and rhythmically into larger spiral. Sometimes dyed or white stems, or brown porcupine, were woven in to make colorful pattern.

A variety of basketry was produce. Round trays (abaq), often decorated with geomantic and spiral patterns, were important peasant household articles with a variety of function. The less ornate trays (minqaleh) were used to cover the dough bowl or to carry the bread back from the (tabun) after baking. Larger trays were placed on the floor for spreading out the floor for the family meal. The most spectacular use the tray was during the wedding when women from the bridegroom’s family went singing in procession to the bride’s house, carring on their heads bridal trays (siniyyeh) containing money and other presents such as clothes, sugar, and coffee, all beautifully displayed on a bed of freshly cut flowers m. Trays were also used as wall decoration or displays ed against the smooth surface of a storage bin (khabiyeh).

Other basketry objects made by women included rounded containers (juneh) for bread, and (qub’ah) for fruits, grain and vegetables. The qadah was covered with animal hide to protect the contents from humidity.

Other basketry containers (quteh) were for trinkets. One was pear-shaped with a narrow neck-opening for interesting the hand. This was often hung from its handles by a chain from the ceiling, and was used by women to store scissors, embroidery thread, keys and other tools. Anther type of quteh, consisting of a square box with a triangular top and decorated with floss silk fringes (dhbabih) was specially made the bride’s accessories or toiletries such as bracelets, kerchiefs and kohl.

During the harvest days while working in the fields, men made corn dollies (musht) from the wheat heads and stems. These were hung in the house as a symbol of the fertility and prosperity.

Source: Amiry, Suad and Tamari, Vera: The Palestinian Village Home, 1989.

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