The Indian Basket-maker

The Indian Basket The Indian Basket

"Come, little Nagami, my Bird-Singer, you are ten years old, it is time you learned to make baskets. I made my first when I was but eight," said Mother Akoko proudly, for she was the best basket-maker on the river.

So they took a sharp stick, and went into the woods. Akoko looked for spruce trees that had been blown down by the storm, but found none, so she stopped under some standing spruce, at a place with no underbrush and said: "See, Nagami, here we dig for wattap."

The spruce roots or "wattap" were near the surface and easily found, but not easily got out, because they were long, tangled and criss-crossed. Yet, by pulling up, and cutting under, they soon got a bundle of roots like cords, and of different lengths, from two feet to a yard, or more.

"Good," said Akoko; "this is enough and we need not soak them, for it is summer, and the sap is running. If it were fall we should have to boil them. Now you must scrape them clear of the brown bark." So Nagami took her knife and worked for an hour, then came with the bundle saying: "See, Mother, they are smooth, and so white that they have not a brown spot left." "Good," said Akoko, "now you need some bark of the willow for sewing cord. Let us look along the river bank."

There they found the round-leafed, or fish-net willow, and stripped off enough of its strong bark to make a bundle as big as one hand could hold.

This also had to be scraped clear of the brown skin, leaving only the strong whitish inner bark, which, when split into strips, was good for sewing.

"See, my Nagami, when I was a little girl I had only a bone needle made from the leg of a deer, but you have easy work; here is a big steel packing needle, which I bought for you from a trader. This is how you make your basket."

So Akoko began a flat coil with the spruce roots, and sewed it together with the willow bark for thread, until it was a span wide. And whenever a new root was to be added, she cut both old piece and new, to a long point, so they would overlap without a bump.

Then the next coil of the spruce roots was laid on, not flat and level, but raised a little. Also the next, until the walls were as high as four fingers. Then Akoko said, "Good, that is enough. It is a fine corn basket. But we must give it a red rim for good luck."

So they sought in a sunny place along the shore, and found the fruit of the squawberry or blitum. "See," said Akoko, "the miscawa. Gather a handful, my Nagami. They make the red basket-dye."

They crushed the rich red berries, saving the red juice in a clam shell, and soaked a few strands of the white willow bark in the stain. When they were dry, Nagami was taught to add a rim to her basket, by sewing it over and over as in the picture.

Then Akoko said, "Good, my little Bird-Singer, you have done well, you have made some old black roots into a beautiful basket."

N.B. The Guide will remember that rattan and raffia can be used for this when it is impossible to get spruce roots and willow bark. Good dyes may be made from many different berries.

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