Ritual and belief

  • Female figure with smaller standing figure

    Female figure with smaller standing figure

    Kongo peoples, © The Trustees of the British Museum. All Rights Reserved

Ceremonies and ritual practices associated with belief systems are common in cultures all over the world. Basketry is a significant aspect of these occasions because of its transformative and protective qualities.

Various mythological accounts of the creation of the universe involve weaving. They seem to show that the development of basketry is directly implicated in ideas about divinely created order. In a Maori myth, Tane nui a rangi (Son of Heaven) obtained three baskets from the heavens:te kete tua tea (the basket of ritual knowledge), te kete tua uri (the basket of occult knowledge) and te kete aronui (the basket of technical knowledge and the arts).

In Central Africa close communication with the dead and beliefs in the effectiveness of their powers are mediated by healers, diviners and banganga (ritual specialists). Banganga use containers, including baskets, filled with spiritually-charged materials for divination purposes. These baskets become so potent that they are themselves often contained in places of secrecy.

Basketry costumes appear in masquerades in which a masked figure impersonates a spirit, ancestor or some other ideal entity. Masks have a life of their own, acting as a second skin which subsumes the identity of the performer.

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