Wednesday, July 02, 2008

River Cane usage among the Cherokee

page 50: John R. Swanton (1946) considered cane to be one of the most important of all raw materials in the Southeast. Two types were commonly used in the region: Aruninaria gigantean (Commonly called River Cane) and Arundinaria tecta (commonly called Switch Cane), (244). Archaeological evidence in the from of negative impressions in the soil reveals the considerable antiquity of its use (Sears 1956, 29). The Cherokee constructed a wife range of functional objects including woven mats, baskets, and quivers from durable, lightweight cane...

page 55: The Cherokee war chief wore red painted eagle feathers (one stripe for each enemy he had killed) stuck into two-inch-long pieces of cane fastened to his scalp lock (Lewis and Kneberg 1954, 15). "[W]hen an eagle was killed and its feathers taken for use in rituals," Charles Hudson (1976) notes, "the feathers had to be kept wrapped in a deerskin and placed in a small, round feather house, built especially for this purpose, on the edge of the dance ground" (168).

The Cherokee also used natural fiber to weave baskets and mats. Cane mats, typically made in the twill weave, were used on benches i homes and in council house, for wrapping the deceased in burial, and for other purposes. Southeastern mats were about four to five feet wide and about six to eight feet long (Lewis and Kneberg 1954, 41). Artists dyed cane mats and baskets by immersing and simmering cane strips in various types of dye. Dyes were created from roots, berries, bark, ashe, and other natural materials, depending on the color desired.

page 56: Powhatan, powerful chief of the Powhatan Confederacy of Algonquian Indians in the Chesapeake Bay area, received a delegation of Englishmen early in the seventeenth century while sitting on a bed covered with mats. He was wearing a deerskin robe, and at his elbow was a leather-covered pillow ornamented with pearls and "white" (perhaps shell) beads. Young women sat at this head and feet, and long each side of the house sat another twenty of his wives. Each of these women had her head and shoulders painted red and wore a necklace of "white" beads (Tyler 1907, 134. More than 150 years later, in his 1775 journey to Cowee (North Carolina), William Bartram saw town house "sophas...covered with mats or carpets, very curiously made of thin splints of Ash or Oak, woven or platted [sic] together" (Bartram 1789/1995, 85)

Rivercane was used for making baskets from at least as early as the Woodland period to the present. Cherokee mythology offers an in-depth history of these important items. The Cherokee tell of a basket made by Kanane-ski Amai-yehi, or spider-Dwelling-in-the-Water, a creature resembling a water boatman, to capture the first fire. She, like the water boatman, crossed boundaries between land and water and wove the material that Cherokee women associated with carrying water as well as many other daily uses (King 1999, 94-95). Because the Water Spider, like many anomalous beings could live in water and on land, ti was considered to possess exceptional powers. Cherokee baskets are also linked to women in the figure of Selu, The Corn Mother, who held a basket to catch the corn and beans that issued from her body, as described in "Kanatie and Selu: The Origin of Game and Corn.".

Although baskets were used in many colonial households, only two early eighteenth century lidded baskets are known in museum collections. One is in the Historiska Museet, Lund, Sweden, where it was previously attributed incorrectly to the Chinese; it was recently identified as being from the Southeast and probably of Cherokee origin. The other, better-known example is in the Sloane Collection of the British Museum, London, as mentioned previously. Only rare examples of eighteenth-century baskets are known to exist outside museums.

Known as Doubleweave Lidded Basket (figure 9) the Sloane basket, brought to London in 1725, is the earliest known Historic Cherokee basket of its type. Constructed using the twilled, double-weave technique, the basket is 19.7 inches (50 cm.) long. However, differences between the designs in the lid and those in the bottom suggest the lid actually may be an upside-down tray. Twentieth-century Cherokee basket weaver Lottie Stamper named the top design "The Casket" (i.e., coffin) and the bottom "The Pine Tree" (J.C.H. King 1999, 94-95). Both parts are comprised of rivercane strips, some natural color, other dyed dark brown and still others red-brown.

Hampton Rowland Jr., (1989) suggests the first thing to understand about cane in the Southeast is its abundance: "Benjamin Hawkins made a survey of most of the Indian villages in Georgia and west Alabama in 1799 and he remarked on cane being readily available in over half the locations" (27). Ultimately, most large cane brakes disappeared, and the important basket-weaving material became rare. "By the late 1700s, river cane, used as fodder for horses, cattle, and hogs, had become very scarce" (Drooker 1998a, 106)

Adair (1930) described the complex design of and high regard for Cherokee baskets: They make the handsomest clothes baskets...I ever saw, considering their materials. They divide large swamp canes, into long, thin narrow splinters, which they dye of several colours, and manage the workmanship so well, that both the inside and outside are covered with a beautiful variety of pleasing figures; and though for the space of two inches below the upper edge of each basket, it is worked into one, through the other parts they are worked asunder, as if they were two joined a-top by some strong cement. A large nest consists of either or ten baskets, contained within each other. Their dimensions are different, but they usually make the outside basket about a foot deep, a foot and a half broad, and almost a yard long...Formerly, those baskets which the Cheerake made, were so highly esteemed even in South Carolina, the politest of our colonies, for domestic usefulness, beauty and skilful variety, that a large nest of them costs upwards of a moidore. (456).

J.C.H. King (1999) speculates as to how baskets such as Sloane's were collected. The governor, in Charleston, would have been in contact through a network of intermediaries, such as traders, with people in the interior. As traders sold cloth, metal tools, and tobacco to prominent Native American leaders, they would have received copious deer-skins in exchange, and perhaps also a basket or two given as a gesture by a woman related to one of the Cherokee traders. The basket might then have become a gift outside the normal spheres of utilitarian exchange. In this manner, it would have been a symbol of cultural and economic allegiance, possibly in a colonial home before being sent to Europe (93-94).

The use of white-oak splints for baskets gained widespread popularity only after the introduction of metal tools, which permitted the efficient manufacturing and fashioning of the splints (Catesby 1731-43, vol. 2, p. xi) During the 1720s, Mark Catesby stated: " I now send ye capt. Easton in ye Neptuen a Box of Dryed plants with an Indian Apron of the Wild Mulberry this kind of Cloath with a kind of Basket they make the Split cane are the only Mechanick Arts with Notice" (J.C.H. King 1999, 92)

Except taken from: Art of the Cherokee by Susan Power; for a copy of this book: