Wounaan Hösig Di - Motifs and Design
According to a number of early collectors, baskets prior to 1982 were plain, decorated little if at all and far from the elaborate, labor-intensive creations so coveted today by collectors worldwide. Many earlier baskets were unadorned and had lids to secret small treasures and precious objectspossibly items solely dedicated to curing ceremonies or for use by spiritual elders.
During the mid '80s the Wounaan began to impose new motifs and designs onto the basketsbirds, flowers and animals, as well as traditional geometric body-painting motifs. Patterning on shamanic ritual objects that include the boa constrictor from creation-story origins took on new and even stylized dimension.
The geometric motifs on many baskets draw their inspiration from body paintings and the patterns on spiritual paraphernalia used by village shamans. For that reason, baskets woven with adaptations of these traditional designs are called “cultural,” or cultura in Spanish, the second language in the Darién and official language of Panamá.
Basket designs that are not geometric are “pictorial.” These are the rainforest motifs that include flowers, trees, birds (especially scarlet and blue and gold macaw, toucans and hummingbirds), ocelots, jaguars and even whimsical iguanas.
Pictorial motifs, or natura, a term coined in the late 1970s to describe the flora and faunal designs inspired by the surrounding rainforest, also include depictions of creatures inhabiting rivers and coastal waters. For seafaring villagers on tidal rivers, designs convey the many great and small creatures that live in and near the ocean. Common motifs include fish, crabs, octopus, sharks, billfish, as well as branching coral and undulating seaweed.
Geometric influences can also be traced to designs found on pre-Columbian textiles, ceramics, and rock art. A number of patterns woven into Wounaan baskets and used in body paintingsuch as the cross, swastika, the so-called Greek key, and fish-hookare ubiquitous and appear across cultures worldwide.
Geometric patternssuch as the grid, parallel lines, wavy lines, dots, zigzags, cross-hatching, chevrons, honeycombs, chessboards, circular forms, cobwebs, tunnels and funnels, often in vivid colors, expanding, contracting and even overlaying each other and frequently appearing with a bright light in the center of the visual fieldare believed to originate within the nervous system.
Hallucinations are iconic and culturally determined and may be experienced because these percepts are wired into the human nervous system. All people, no matter what their cultural background, have the potential to experience these types of patterns.