Protecting the body

  • Basketry armour

    Basketry armour

    Gilbert Islands, © The Trustees of the British Museum. All Rights Reserved. Donated by Mrs F E Swayne

For tens of thousands of years, woven fibres have provided people with additional protective layers. Most often in direct contact with the body, they were also formed into larger containers: baby carriers and cradles, boats and houses. The association with safety and comfort remains fundamental to the positive feelings we have about basketry.

The boundary between textile and basketry is hard to define; the use of a loom for making cloth is probably the most important distinction. Garments of various kinds, such as the two capes in the exhibition, apparently designed in imitation of animal pelts, use techniques related to mat making. These are both quite flexible, but it is often the relative rigidity of basketry that is most significant as, like a carapace, it can provide the equivalent of an exterior skeleton for protection, for example when used as armour.

The effectiveness of the technology itself as protection is suggested by its widespread use for weaving hats and cloaks to cover the most vulnerable parts of the body. For these reasons, the woven patterns painted or scarified onto the skin, especially the torso, and perhaps the plaiting of hair are related to basketry.

Discuss this

Add your thoughts.

There are currently no comments for this resource.

Add Comment