Geometric designs often reflect the shapes seen in traditional tattoos. Photo: Eric Lafforgue

Unlike the beautiful baskets we see today, up until the late 1900s, Wounaan Hösig Di were very plain—due partially to the fact that they were used primarily for practical purposes, like the storage and transportation of large quantities of water, precious objects or spiritual treasures. However, during the 1980s, all of that changed; and today, weavers of Wounaan Hösig Di can choose from two artistic “motifs” at the start of construction: geometric or pictorial.

Geometric Designs

Geometric motifs draw their inspiration from multiple sources, including pre-Colombian textiles, ceramics and rock art. Baskets woven with these designs are often referred to as “cultural,” due to the fact that a large part of their inspiration stems from body paintings and patterns on spiritual paraphernalia used by village shamans. These tattoos are applied frequently and last only a few weeks, fading quickly. The color comes from the juices of a locally found root vegetable, and applied using a few thin sticks. Painted designs go on clear and darken overnight into the deep rich color you see in many Wounaan and Embera tattoed subjects. Many believe the vegetable juices used to create these beautiful designs also has the properties of an insect repellent.

Pictorial Designs

Pictorial motifs, on the other hand, are called “natura” due to the fact that they are inspired by their natural surroundings. In fact, these designs often include local flowers, trees, birds, ocelots, jaguars, iguanas and other flora and fauna native to the Darién rainforest. Pictorial designs come in a variety of styles, some perfect renditions of the floral subject matter the weaver is conveying, and some an interpretation of the flora using angular shapes and shaded background.

Regardless of which motif they choose, it is evident that both represent an interesting aspect of the culture of the indigenous people who create them. Hösig Di therefore is more than an acquired skill—it’s a window into life in the depths of the Darién rainforest.