A study of things: Balays

POSTED BY Giselle Hernandez, 10.Jun.2013

Balays have a beautifully intricate and eye-catching appearance, often sparking interesting surrounding their possible uses. We decided to dig a little deeper and uncover more about their functional, symbolic, historic and social value.

Basket weaving is a common tradition practiced throughout the Amazon Jungle. For some groups - like Huitoto, Muinane, Desana and Cubeo - this is an activity purely undertaken by men. They gather the materials needed from the interior of the jungle. The natural fibers that are commonly used for constructing Balays come from Guarumo, Juajua, Cumare and Chambira palm trees. After gathering the young leaves they are stripped into long fibers, washed in the river and boiled, before being left out in the sun to dry. Once dried, they can be used in their natural color form or dyed.

Traditionally, balays were used to offer cassava/yuca bread. These days they are commonly used as wall hangings or as part of a table setting as serving trays, and to display household objects.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about their anthropology, is that according to indigenous accounts, the design of a Balay is meant to symbolize the umbilical cord; the central area being where it begins and the wide woven edge representing the cord.

These woven trays with intricate designs and a rustic aesthetic quality hold an interesting connection between domestic and symbolic use. We celebrate that everyday objects of indigenous origin like this one are still being made by the same people and in the same way. And more importantly that we contribute to their longevity by introducing them in other places outside from their original surrounding.


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