It is likely that the basketry tradition far antedates
the manufacture of ceramics in the Philippines, if only because of the abundance
of raw materials. Bamboo, rattan, pandanus, nito, and innumerable tropical
grasses are all excellent resources for making basketry items, and the only
tool required is a sharp knife. The extraordinary proliferation and divergence
of styles from group to group testifies to the longevity of the tradition
and the centrality of basketmaking to Filipino life.
Baskets are made by plaiting, twisting, coiling,
and weaving. Most materials must be softened up by soaking, craping, stripping,
or caning prior to use. Multicolored materials for embroidery may be natural
or dyed by soaking or boiling with fruits, barks, and other materials. Finished
items such as hats, handbags, and decorative mats are often decorated with
beads, tassels, feathers, shell, or bone.
Basketry articles are used for a vast array of purposes.
Large, relatively plain baskets are generally used for storing rice and other
foodstuffs. Backpacks are ubiquitous and used for transporting foods, market
goods, and children. Rectangular mats are used to sleep on or for wrapping
the dead, while other shapes are used as wall decorations or for religious
purposes. Items such as fish traps are made in an abundance of shapes, the
main design consideration being the prevention of escape.