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Dong and Miao ethnic minority baskets and other tribal art from southwest China

Dong minority fishing using baskets in Guizhou province

Dong and Miao minority groups in Guizhou and Guangxi make baskets for everyday use for a variety of functions, ranging from general storage to keeping birds and fish. The Dong minority fishermen in the photo (taken in 1996) are using a large basket to trap fish in the river, and smaller waist baskets to keep them in.

Most baskets are daily use objects that rarely last more than a decade or two, so though baskets used to be very common throughout southeast Asia old examples with good patina are rare. The old baskets that do survive tend to be ones that are exceptionally well-made and tightly woven. Older baskets tend to have a dark brown and somewhat smoky patina: I suspect that this patination plays a role in keeping the basket dry and protecting it from insects, as well as being a source of beauty.

I developed an interest in baskets during time spent living in Japan in the 1990s. Japanese ikebana basket makers buy old bamboo from the ceilings of traditional houses, where it has acquired a dark brown patina. In contrast, Dong and Miao basket makers use fresh green bamboo. Village-made baskets pick up their patination over decades spent hanging in smoky huts and from use. Though I love contemporary Japanese baskets I prefer a genuinely old handmade minority basket of the type shown here - the texture of a daily use object handled for a century or more is something that cannot be copied.

Click on photos for a larger image.

SA1

Dong minority vase-shaped basket, 21cm tall.

Dong minority basket from Guizhou province

SA17

Dong minority waist basket for general use. 20cm tall.

$600

Dong minority basket from southwest China

SA2

Dong minority waist basket used by fishermen for keeping small fish. Unusual asymmetric weave with double-walled construction. Very old with dark patination. 19cm tall.

Dong minority waist basket from Guizhou

SA6

Dong minority waist basket used by fishermen for keeping small fish. Unusual asymmetric weave with double-walled construction. 19cm tall.

Dong minority waist basket from Guizhou province, China

SA9

Small Dong minority basket used as a cricket cage (or for storing insects caught to feed caged birds). 12cm long.

Dong minority basket for holding a cricket, southwestern China

SA12

Dong minority basket used for holding sticky rice ("lunch box") made of bamboo and coir-like material. With string bag for carrying. 16cm diameter.

Dong minority rice storage basket

SA34

Another style of Dong basket for carrying sticky rice to the fields for lunch.

Dong minority basket for holding rice

SA15

Miao minority vase-shaped basket from Guizhou province with characteristic decoration.19.5cm tall.

Miao minority basket from Guizhou province, China

SA18

General purpose basket, Dong minority from Guizhou. 15cm tall.

Dong minority basket from Guizhou province, China

SA19

General purpose waist basket from Guizhou, probably Dong minority. 20cm long.

Dong minority waist basket for general use

SA20

General purpose round basket from Guizhou, probably Dong minority. 14cm tall.

Dong minority basket

SA26

Dong minority arrow quiver from Guizhou province. 39cm long. Unusual.

Dong minority arrow quiver

SA27

Dong minority pipe and tobacco set: bamboo pipe with clay bowl and brass mouthpiece, leather tobacco pouch and iron pick. Very old and wonderfully patinated.

Dong minority pipe, tobacco pouch, smoking set from Guizhou province, southwestern China