The Darién rainforest is known for its impossible pathways and nearly impenetrable paths; due, in part, to the dangerous “Chunga” palm—containing vicious spines up to six inches in length. Despite its prickly exterior, the Chunga palm has many valuable uses. While the hard black wood is used primarily for house posts, these trees have spiritual connotations, as well. In fact, many elders believe that ancient ancestors once used strong rope braided from chunga palms to tie demons to the exposed roots of the trees along the river; consequently drowning them when the water level rose.
Chunga is so closely linked to Wounaan tradition and daily life that, when it comes to the creation of Hösig Di, each basket is believed to begin with an inherent spiritual quality. Further to this point, the women who weave them are often called “spirit weavers.” In the past, to make these baskets, members of the Wounaan and Emberá tribes would often cut Chunga palms down in order to collect the young, tender leaves needed for stitching—usually found just emerging from the top of the tree. However, as weavers and village leaders began to recognize the economic hardships they could face if the palms were destroyed, they started using tall ladders, at a safe distance from the spines, and replanting the trees to keep them alive.
Today, discriminating collectors believe that Wounaan Hösig Di baskets rival the finest hand-woven artwork in the world. With their creative design and careful use of nature, these artists create beautiful work that is not only rare, but represents a lifetime of history and meaning.