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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


The best Miwok twined basketry (te'we, tewu'asī, N; tewua', C) is relatively coarse compared with the best work of the Washo88 and Mono. The burden baskets are nearly all without ornamental patterns, thus contrasting with certain of the Maidu, Washo, and Mono burden baskets. To utilize even their most closely woven burden baskets for seed gathering, the Miwok had first to fill the interstices with a coating of soaproot (palawi, C) juice, so that the seeds would not work through. The Washo, Maidu, and Mono wove certain of their burden baskets so finely that no coating was required to prevent leakage of seeds. The Miwok formerly had no finely woven and patterned winnowers like those of the Washo89 and Mono.

Twined baskets were woven with the fingers alone, except for occasionally tightening a round with a bone awl, or sewing on a reinforcing hoop at the rim with the same instrument. All Miwok twined baskets, other than cradles, in the University’s collection, have reinforcing willow hoops sewed to their rims. There are no delicate and beautiful twined baskets.

Plates LI-LV show some of the forms of twined baskets. The Miwok names for the various types are as follows:

Burden basket: tcū'nik, t'inī (P); tcī'kele, tū'yūma (N); tcī'kele, tcikali, mutak (C); tcī'kele (S). Plate LIV.

Seed beater: ku'kūsī (N), kūkū'si (C), tca'mai (S). Plates LI, fig. 3; LII, fig. 3; LIII, fig. 7.

Triangular winnower: he'talu, tu'ma (N), tcamayu (C). This is the closely woven Mono-Washo type.90 The names applied are those already in use for the Miwok coiled, circular, winnowing plaque, and openwork, twined, plate-form sifter.

Plate-form, openwork sifter: ū'lit (P); ulī'ta, tu'ma (N); he'talu (C); he'tal (S).

Hemispherical, openwork sifter: o'woyu, tca'ma (C). Plate LII, figs. 4-6.

Triangular, openwork sifter: tī'lik (P); tca'ma, tca'mai, dja'ma (N); tca'ma, tca'maiu (C); tca'mai, tce'kla (S). Plates LII, figs. 1 and 2, and LIII, figs. 4-6 and 8.

Globose storage basket, either closely woven or openwork: tu'pulū, hupulu (C); tū’'pūla, hū'pūlū (S).

Fish basket: kesa'pu (C).

Cradle, northern type: tco'ta (P), hī'kī (N). Kroeber, 1925, plate 39f.

Cradle, southern type: woa'na (P, N), hi'kī (C), hī'kī (S). Kroeber, 1925, plate 39a, c-e.

Cradle hood: tc'kno, tco'kime (C); tcō'kīme (S). Kroeber, 1925, plate 39a.

Rackets for women’s ball game: ama‘'ta (P); tcama'tī (N); a'mta, ammutna (C). Plate LV, figs. 1 and 2.

In the following discussion of materials employed in making twined baskets, the Miwok baskets in the Field Museum of Natural History are included. Identification of basket materials in that collection was by Dr. J. W. Hudson, in the University’s collection by Miss Ruth Earl Merrill. The statistics refer to the combined collections.

As warp for twined baskets the identified materials used, in order of abundance, were the stems of Salix in 34 examples, Corylus rostrata californica in 6, Cercis occidentalis in 3, Rhus trilobata in 3, Acer macrophyllum (pī'pum, N; pī'pun, sa'iyi, C) in 2, and Ceanothus integerrimus in 1.

Willow (Salix) was also the most abundant weft material. Twenty-three baskets employed Salix stems and bark, 11 Acer macrophyllum sapwood, 5 Cercis occidentalis sapwood, 3 Rhus trilobata (ta'ma, C), 3 Acer macrophyllum bark, 1 Corylus rostrata californica stems, and 1 Pinus ponderosa root. Acer macrophyllum bark served as binding for a rim hoop in one basketry tray.

Two plain-twined techniques were used. In one a single rod was included in each twining of the pliable elements, in the other two rods. The former is well illustrated in the cradles in Kroeber, 1925, plate 39, the latter in plates LII, fig. 2, and LIV, fig. 2. The latter technique was the commoner. Often the courses of twining elements were run alternately to right and left (plates LII, fig. 4, and LIII, fig. 4). The beginning of a twined basket was called solu (C).

The diagonal-twined technique was occasionally used (plate LIII, fig. 2). The figured example has a handle which is presumably a modern innovation. A second handled example (1-10295) has a design in redbud bark. The weft elements in the courses of design are split redbud stems with the bark on one side. By turning these, either the red bark or the whitish wood is exposed to make the pattern, which is alternating parallelograms of red and white. Where a red figure shows on the exterior, a white one shows on the interior, and vice versa. Both of these diagonal-twined baskets are oval in shape. The beginning of each was made by laying the transverse warp elements side by side and binding a bundle of about six longitudinal warp elements at right angles across them. This bundle is on the inside of the completed basket. The rods in the bundle spread fan fashion from each end of the bundle to form the two ends of the basket. One of the baskets has a single decorative round of three-strand twining, two inches below the rim. Three-strand twining is rare among the Miwok and occurs either as a decorative or a strengthening device, as in burden baskets.

The triangular winnowers used in recent years, were either imported from the Mono and Washo, or made in imitation of their utensils. The ancient Miwok form was a coiled circular plaque (plates XLIX, figs. 2-5, and L, fig. 1). For the triangular winnower young shoots of Ceanothus cuneatus (paiwa, C) frequently formed the warp. Older shoots were used for the rim.

The burden basket (plate LIV) was more or less openly twined. Its pointed bottom was usually reinforced with extra weaving elements or with rawhide (plate LIV, fig. 2), since this was the part subjected to the greatest wear. When the bottom was worn through it was repaired with raw deer or other skin. This basket was carried by means of a buckskin or woven burden band, never by means of a woven net. The openness of the weave made this basket unsuitable for carrying fine materials, such as grass seeds. This was overcome by a coating of mucilaginous soaproot juice. The soaproot was baked in hot ashes, dipped in water, and rubbed on the basket. Plate LIV, fig. 3, shows a basket freshly treated in this manner. Such a coated basket was called waka (C). The edge of the burden basket was made rigid by means of a hoop, often of Ceanothus cuneatus, and in some a hoop was placed midway down the inside of the basket. The edge of the basket, before the hoop was sewed on, was formed of the projecting warp rods, which were bent over and lashed tightly. In some examples only every fourth or fifth warp rod is bent over, the others being cut off (plate LIV, fig. 2).

Most of the burden baskets were begun by crossing a number of the warp rods and bending them to form the sides of the cone. In two examples (1-10148, 1-10095), the apex of the basket was reinforced with three-strand twining. In three examples a different procedure was adopted, the ends of the warp rods being simply lashed to form a bundle. On two of these a leather cap is sewed over the ends, making a more pointed bottom (plate LIV, fig. 2). Owing to the conical form of burden baskets the number of warp rods was increased as the work proceeded. Consequently the new ones reached only part way down the side of the basket toward the pointed bottom.

Of fourteen burden baskets examined by Miss Merrill, twelve were made in whole or in part of willow. Of these twelve, seven have both willow warp and woof, two have willow warp and maple bark woof, three have hazel warp and willow woof. Figure 4 of plate LIV, with willow warp, from West Point (N) has the first few courses of woof of grapevine, at the point of the basket, while the remainder is of split willow stems. The rim hoop is also bound on with grapevine. In figure 1 of plate LIV the courses of twining for about two inches below the rim are close together. For two inches below this a crude ornamental band has been formed by using redbud bark as one of the two strands of woof.

A miniature burden basket (1-10091) from Murphys, in Central Miwok territory, is the only Miwok basket which employs hazel for both warp and woof. Another burden basket (1-10163) is made entirely of peeled redbud and has an ornamental band of redbud bark about two inches below the rim. The warp is of peeled redbud stems, the woof of redbud sapwood.

With the coated burden basket was used the handled seed beater. One (plate LIII, fig. 7) has the handle at right angles to the scoop of the basket. The opposite extreme in the position of the handle is shown in plate LII, fig. 3. Here the handle is in nearly the same plane as the scoop. Specimen 70029, Field Museum, is a deep, nearly circular Central Miwok seed beater with a ring finish at the end of the handle, made by bending over and wrapping the warp elements, as around the edge of a twined basket. It was used as a scoop as well as a flail. In the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology there is a Miwok seed beater of the Cahuilla type. It consists of a number of folded twigs, bundled at one end to form a handle and expanded fanlike at the folded or bent middles of the twigs. A circular withe, and two cross rods lashed together on either side across the diameter of the circle, serve to hold the twigs rigidly in position. Plate LI, fig. 3, shows this specimen.

Variation in color of the Miwok seed beater was attained in some cases by using alternate groups of peeled and unpeeled willow sticks for the warp elements. Young sprouts of deer brush, Ceanothus integerrimus (ūsū'nni, C, S) were also used. There was variation in the placing of the hoop forming the edge of the flatter seed beaters, for in some cases it passes under the base of the handle (plate LII, fig. 3), and in other cases over. Seed beaters were sometimes used to leach manzanita cider (e.g., 1-10186).

When seeds were obtained they were usually sifted and winnowed before being stored. The sifting was done with the coarsely twined basket of more or less triangular form (plates LII, figs. 1, 2, 4-6, and LIII, figs. 6, 8). These also served for cleaning shelled acorn meats, to rid them of the brown coating, sometimes for leaching small quantities of acorn meal, for leaching manzanita cider, and for draining boiled clover.

Small openwork baskets were hung up as receptacles for awls, other small implements, and trinkets (e.g., 1-10096 and plate LIII, figs. 1, 3).

The Central and Southern Miwok, at least, used large, globose, twined, storage baskets called hupulu for the storing of greens, dried fish, and other dried foods. Some were so large that the maker got inside the partly finished basket to work on it. A twined storage basket of the hūppūlū (S) type is in the Field Museum collection (70040), from the Chowchilla river in Southern Miwok territory. It is about 10 inches high and 19 in diameter, and both warp and woof are of redbud.

88Barrett, 1917, pls. 11 and 13.
89Barrett, 1917, pl. 11.
90See Barrett, 1917, pl. 11.


Figure 1. Fire drill consisting of “hearth” and drill. Spec. No. 1-10623 (C). Neg. No. 5967. Length of “hearth” 213 mm.

Figure 2. Coiled basket with split stitch on exterior only. Indian Creek, Calaveras County. Specimen 74928 (C), Peabody Museum, Harvard University.

Figure 3. Seed beater resembling Cahuilla type of southern California. Northern Miwok, Amador County. Spec. No. 63424, Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Length 460 mm.

Courtesy: Peabody Museum, Harvard University.

1. Fire drill. 2. Coiled basket. 3. Seed beater.
[click to enlarge]

Openwork baskets of plain twined technique.
[click to enlarge]


Openwork baskets of plain twined technique.

Figure 1. Sifter. Length 400 mm. Spec. No. 1-10000 (N). Neg. No. 5970.

Figure 2. Sifter. Spec. No. 1-10123 (C). Neg. No. 5970.

Figure 3. Seed beater used with burden basket for harvesting seeds. Spec. No. 1-10145 (C). Neg. No. 5970.

Figure 4. Sifter. In this specimen the courses of twining pass back and forth close together, so that they appear like braiding. Diameter at rim 378 mm. Spec. No. 1-10237 (S). Neg. No. 5973.

Figure 5. Sifter. Spec. No. 1-10140 (C). Neg. No. 5973.

Figure 6. Sifter, very old and showing repairs. Spec. No. 1-9971 (N). Neg. No. 5973.

Twined baskets.
[click to enlarge]


Twined baskets.

Figure 1. Trinket basket. Spec. No. 1-10167 (C). Neg. No. 9113. Length 230 mm.

Figure 2. Trinket basket of diagonal twined technique. Spec. No. 1-10215 (S). Neg. No. 9111. Maximum diameter 225 mm.

Figure 3. Trinket basket. Spec. No. 1-10267 (C). Length 335 mm. Neg. No. 9111.

Figure 4. Sifter. Spec. No. 1-10002 (N). Neg. No. 9110. Length 450 mm.

Figure 5. Sifter. Spec. No. 1-10217 (S). Neg. No. 9112. Diameter 220 mm.

Figure 6. Sifter. Spec. No. 1-10104 (C). Neg. No. 9112. Length 295 mm.

Figure 7. Seed beater. Spec. No. 1-10354 (S). Neg. No. 9113. Length, exclusive of handle, 488 mm.

Figure 8. Sifter. Spec. No. 1-10098 (C). Neg. No. 9110. Length 580 mm.

Burden baskets of twined techniques.
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Burden baskets of twined techniques.

Figure 1. Burden basket, illustrating viz. (1) beginning by bending ends of warp rods together, (2) bands of close twining near the rim, the lower band partly of redbud bark to give color. Spec. No. 1-10069 (C).

Figure 2. Burden basket without coating of soaproot juice. Only suitable for carrying coarser things, such as acorns. Point repaired and strengthened with rawhide. Spec. No. 1-10248 (S).

Figure 3. Burden basket newly coated with soaproot juice, applied within and without to render it tight to hold small seeds. Spec. No. 1-10239 (S).

Figure 4. Burden basket, illustrating viz : (1) beginning with crossed warp elements, (2) use of grape vine at bottom and top, (3) rim finish in which warp rods are grouped in fours, but only one rod is bent over to form rim, the others being cut off. Diameter at rim 538 mm. Spec. No. 1-10094 (C).

Neg. No. 8271.

Basket rackets and balls.
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Basket rackets and balls.

Figures 1, 2. Basket rackets used in women’s ball game. Spec. No. 1-10363 (C). Fig. 1, length 422 mm.

Figures 3, 4. Wooden balls used in men’s game of shinney. Spec. No. 1-10356 (S).

Figure 5. Buckskin-covered ball used with the basket rackets,

figures 1 and 2, in the women’s ball game. Spec. No. 1-10362 (C).

Figure 6. Buckskin-covered ball used in the men’s ball game. Spec. No. 10361 (C).

Neg. No. 5976.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management