For its second in-depth interview for 2021, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation invited Dr. Céline Kerfant to impart knowledge and insights on Philippine Basket traditions.

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On April 27, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation conducted its second In-Depth Interview for the year 2021. Invited to impart knowledge and insights on Philippine Basket traditions was Dr. Céline Kerfant who has recently finished her studies comparing raw materials, techniques, technology, and purposes of basket making in Taiwan and the Philippines. 

In attendance was Dr. Laya Boquiren- Gonzales of the NPF Heritage Space Program, Members of the Museo ng Nayong Pilipino Team; Program Head Patricia Panganiban, Digital Archivist Renz Santos, Collections Assistants Essie Dela Cruz and Princess Hernandez, Project Officer Tamara Bañez, and on the lead to conduct the interview was Senior Collections Researcher Anna Pineda.

The discussions were opened with Ms. Pineda asking Dr. Kerfant about raw materials and weaving techniques of baskets she has encountered in her research and data gathering throughout the Philippines. As an ethnobotanist, Dr. Kerfant was keenly interested in raw materials for baskets and the process of making which begins in the selection and management of materials. She explored in the discussion the widely used rattan, bamboo, and a fern that is very important to the Philippines, the nito

Rattan as Dr. Kerfant highlighted has an exceptional quality of being versatile. It is found in the forests of the entire Philippine islands. Its capability to adapt to the different soil and environment has produced several varieties. This may be also used as an identifier for which geographical location the basket could have been produced in. 

Throughout Dr. Kerfant’s research, the use of Banana fibers such as abaca came as a surprise. It is among the materials which are often preferred in Philippine basket making and she was not aware that it was possible to use it as a material for baskets. She noted that Banana fiber was mostly used on the Eastern Coast of the Philippines. The plant thrives in volcanic composites and mountainous areas where rain is retained.

Selection and management of raw materials is a role that can be accorded to the basket maker as well as the members of the community. Dr. Kerfant tapped into the stages of basket making particularly on the importance of the preparation of raw materials. She enunciated that the process was old knowledge and the mastery of materials comes from learning from the material itself. Decisions in basket-making are formed through cultural choices by the makers. 

Dr. Kerfant mentions, for example, the use of rattan and banana fiber to produce baskets with water-resistant capabilities. These materials are impervious to seawater and traction. Here is where the mastery of materials is evident as the plant’s physical properties are applied to basket making. Method of weaving could potentially play a role in further strengthening these baskets. Dr. Kerfant noted that there are basket makers with such exemplary coiling techniques wherein the baskets may be used to store water and other liquid materials. She added that basketmakers and community members know exactly how to push the properties of the plant to its maximum capacity. 

Mastery of materials also translates to choosing colors and design. Dr. Kerfant discusses the selection of nito due to its ability to darken which may be achieved through smoking. “There is something with the color that is beyond the eyes,” she said. Smoking and coloring are more than just methods. Dr. Kerfant emphasized that smoking makes materials less susceptible to insect infestation and serves as a repellent for what is stored within. 

Other than smoking, another technique highlighted by Dr. Kerfant is layering baskets with wax or resin which not only strengthens the materials but also makes the basket last longer. She surmised that the process and techniques applied are associated with the requirements of treatment and functions of a basket.  “ Everything is interwoven,” she said. 

Dr. Kerfant noted that in basket traditions in Taiwan, the nito was completely ignored and was not even named. While in the rest of the Philippines, nito is valued as it grows abundantly all over the country. It can be easily found anywhere in the tropics and does not require intensive cultivation. Dr. Kerfant added that the nito or Lygodium is so important to Philippine basketry that it can sometimes completely replace rattan. 

Some entries in the NPF Basket collection were also anatomized by Dr. Kerfant further analyzing the various materials used in one basket. She said that basketmakers may use several types of materials in one basket which will depend on the needs and function of the basket.

Other concepts explored in the interview are gender roles in basket-making and function. Dr. Kerfant accentuated that there are baskets made by men that can only be used by women or vice versa. She added that it depends on the context of the basket in use, there is a reason which often leads to the action.

Towards the conclusion of the interview, Ms. Pineda sought recommendations for possible areas of studies in Philippine baskets.  Dr. Kerfant advised exploring beyond the basic plants used in basket making. Varieties are often produced in different environments and other extraordinary materials are being used for baskets. On research, she emphasized that it is important to learn the basics as your questions and perspective change. Raw materials, plants,  always vary and differ in a way and these are components essential to a basketmaker and their process of basket making.  

Learn more and view the highlights from the interview on the NPF YouTube channel.