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Pjilasi Mi'kma'ki - Episode 6: All About Ligpenigen (Baskets)

by Annie Clair

Photo: Courtesy of Sandra (Clair) Racine – for more: http://www.mikmaqwovendreams.com
Photo: Courtesy of Sandra (Clair) Racine – for more: http://www.mikmaqwovendreams.com

Well, hello again. We’re happy to share our sixth episode, which is all about the craft of basketmaking and its relevance to Mi’kmaq people. Now, you might wonder what is so important about basketmaking, that we’d devote an entire half hour episode of this podcast to it?

Ah. You might say that the importance of the basket resides within the hands of the ancestors. Because the basket is more than a basket. The intricate processes involved in transforming a tree into a bundle of splints, then into a tightly woven basket, have been refined over the generations into what many consider today to be a high art form.

And of course, when we talk of making baskets, we must ask ourselves the question of ‘why’?

Why indeed weave a basket, when another container might suffice? The story of ‘why’ is interwoven with the colonial experience. Because colonial incursions upon traditional lands and lifestyles, combined with colonial tastes in containers, provide a key to understanding how Mi’kmaq became master weavers in their own right.

Historians suggest that basket weaving, particularly using trees such as black ash and maple, was not part of Mi’kmaq culture prior to the mid-1700s. While no one appears quite certain how basket making using tree splints first was learned, basket making quickly became a source of survival income for Mi’kmaq families who were being pushed to the brink of extinction. As capitalism and private property imposed themselves upon the semi-nomadic lifestyle, weaving and selling baskets to settlers – and later tourists – became a lifeline.

So come on, explore the basket with us. We’ll be talking to master Mi’kmaq basket makers, traditional tree harvesters and settlers of a particular vintage, who remember their first interactions with Mi’kmaq people as being directly linked to baskets. Listen carefully, and you might just catch a whisper of your own past within these stories.

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