Photo: Lorran Meares
While the original functions of early Hösig Di are still a mystery, they were believed to be used as storage vessels for large quantities of water, precious stones, matches and small treasures. Only migrating from Colombia in the late 1700s, the Wounaan and Emberá Indians who “weave” Hösig Di were once called “Choco,” after the province in which they lived. Regarded today for their intricate design more than their function, this craft is still passed down from mother to daughter in these Panamanian tribes—and are primarily handmade in the remote villages of the Darién rainforest.
Prior to 1982, weavers of Hösig Di incorporated little to no décor – most baskets were a plain, off-white color, the color of sun-bleached palm materials. This all changed with a few very important influencers who lived near and among the Wounaan. Ron Binder, a professor studying Chocó language groups with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and Ellie Gale, an important collector who worked with members of the Panama Canal, both encouraged these talented women to incorporate aspects of their Colombian history—like geometric patterns from ceremonies and ancient artifacts, as well as native flora and fauna of the Darién rainforest—onto the baskets they created. Our featured Vintage collection is from Ellie, and features the pieces she collected while living in Panama and encouraging Wounaan artistry. Shortly after, Llori Gibson, a Panamanian-American living in the Canal Zone, opened the first gallery dedicated to presenting these emerging art forms—and by 1990, they began to appear in valued collections first in the American Southwest, and then all over the world.
Their popularity stems from the rarity of both their availability and the talented individuals who make them. In fact, today, an estimated 8,000-10,000 members of the Wounaan tribe and 20,000 Emberá inhabit the Darién tropical rainforest, with another 12,000 Wounaan taking up residence in the neighboring Colombian province of Choco. These tribes alone, as small as they are, are responsible for the entire production of Hösig Di across the globe.