Occupying a portion of the central Sierra Nevada mountains of California that runs along the Feather and the American Rivers, the Maidu are a Native American tribe known for their expert weaving skills. Although a nomadic hunting and gathering group that traditionally relied very lightly on agriculture and tool making, their intricately woven baskets, which filled a variety of roles, have gained international renown and demand.
The main craft-work of the Maidu people is the elaborate weaving of baskets, bowls and other household items. These fine pieces of work are traditionally made by women of the tribe and some feature weaving so tight and intricate that the stitches can only be seen with a magnifying glass. The baskets usually utilize complicated geometric patterns that represent forces of natures like lighting and the night sky.
Modern Maidu Basketry
A number of modern Maidu basket weavers continue to practice the traditional craft and have their works available for sale through craft vendors on the Internet. Like in olden times, modern Maidu basket weavers are primarily female. A number of museums, including the Plumas County Museum in Quincy, California, have extensive displays of Maidu baskets.
Uses of the Baskets
Maidu baskets served a wide variety of functions within the hunter-gatherer society in which the Maidu once lived. Air tight baskets were used to carry water and other liquids, while other baskets were used to sift acorn flour and store items for long periods of time. Considered to be one of the finest basket weaving societies in ancient North America, the Maidu made baskets as small as a pinhead and as large as a claw-foot bathtub. Baskets were used as bowls, plates, canteens, luggage, animal traps, cradles and even hats.
Other Maidu Crafts
Even though they are considered expert weavers, the Maidu had very little in the way of material possessions and handicrafts. Since they supplemented their diet with roots that had to be dug up from under the ground, a small variety of carved digging tools were used. The Maidu also hunted small game like rabbit, using hand crafted spears and knives. Certain ceremonies and dances called for elaborate headdresses, usually decorated with brightly colored bird feathers.
Based in San Francisco, Ocean Malandra is a travel writer, author and documentary filmmaker. He runs a major San Francisco travel website, is widely published in both online and print publications and has contributed to several travel guidebooks to South America.