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Posts from the ‘Southeast Asia’ Category

A Mon Carrying Basket from Myanmar

Between November 1963 and August 1964, William C. Sturtevant and Theda Maw Sturtevant pursued ethnographic field research in Burma (now Myanmar) with support from the (U.S.) National Science Foundation. The Smithsonian Institution provided funds with which an ethnographic field collection could be assembled. This collection, comprising about 400 objects, was accessed in 1967 into the collections of what is now the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History.

Sturtevant summarized the scope of the collection in this way: “The majority of the items derive from the Burmese proper; small collections included derive from the following minority groups of Burma: Intha, Mon, Shan, Karen, Kayah, Pa-O, Bre, Padaung, Kachin, Thado Chin, Zomi Chin, Lahu Shi, Lahu Na, Lisu, Akha.” (NMNH Accession 273786)

Pictured below is one of fourteen objects attributed to the Mon people in Burma. It is a “carrying basket” (catalog number E408784).

I have written several essays [1, 2] on the career of William C. Sturtevant. In this context, it makes more sense to highlight here the life of Theda Maw Sturtevant, Bill Sturtevant’s then-wife and research collaborator. Legacy.com provides access to a Washington Post obituary that notes that Theda Maw Sturtevant (1931-2016) was:

Born in Rangoon, Burma, the daughter of Dr. Ba Maw, former Prime Minister of Burma, and Daw Kinmama Maw.” After noting her children, the obituary continues: “She loved her family, her parents, and her country. As a teenager she came to the United States to attend graduate school at Yale University where she received an MA in History. She later was the editor of her father”s book “Breakthrough in Burma: Memoirs of a Revolution 1939-1946”, published by Yale University Press. Beloved by all for her strong will and impish sense of humor, she lived her rich life with integrity and duty.

Here is the basket that I looked at last week.

NMNH E408784 Back A

Other posts in this series on Asian (pack and related) baskets in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History can be found here, here, and here.

A Dyak Carrying Basket

The Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution holds a large ethnographic collection from Maritime Southeast Asia. This Dyak basket was collected not long before 1906 by W. L. Abbott on the Landak River (a tributary of the Kapuas River) in present-day South Kalimantan, Indonesia on the island of Borneo. It is catalog number E244256.

Note the wood panel rim and the basketry-woven body. Abbott claimed that women produce the basketry sections with men doing the final woodwork.

A huge number of associated Dyak baskets collected by Abbott were exhibited by the Smithsonian at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco, California in 1915, but this example appears to have been left behind (based on the published checklist for the exhibition published in The Exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915 (San Francisco, CA: Smithsonian Institution, 1915). (See page 95. This volume is available in the Internet Archive here.) The curator-author of the Panama-Pacific catalogue wrote of the exhibition’s “Arts of the Dyaks of Borneo” installation:

The basketry of the Dyaks is unrivalled for strength, fineness, variety and skill in construction. Rattan and bamboo, tough and resistant, are materials capable of being readily and evenly divided and splints of any length can be easily made. Many of the specimens combine joinery work with basket weaving and the knots, loops, windings, and other fastening off show marvelous ingenuity. (Smithsonian 1915, 93).

This description (my guess is that Otis T. Mason is its author) certainly is illustrated by the basket pictured here.

NMNH E244256 Side A

For earlier posts in this series on Asian packbaskets at the Smithsonian, see here (Japan) and here (Philippines).

An Ifugao Packbasket from Northern Luzon, Philippines

In connection with ongoing research on work baskets in the Southwestern provinces of China, I spent some time during the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology looking comparatively at packbaskets from societies in East and Southeast Asia. These baskets are from a variety of accessions in the ethnology collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Below, I share some photographs of a “backpack” basket from among the Ifugao people of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. Collected about 1977 and donated about 2001, it is catalog number E431417. Finely made, among its most distinctive features are the flaps that pull down over the opening when it is worn. Its a very clever design, one unlike any others among the baskets that I have seen in the NMNH collections.

NMNH E431417 Back ANMNH E431417 Bottom ANMNH E431417 Front ANMNH E431417 Side A

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