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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 14, 2003 - Issue 89


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Basket Course Weaves in History Lesson

by Ben Schnayerson San Bernardino County Sun
credits: Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

BasketSAN MANUEL INDIAN RESERVATION - About 10 San Manuel tribal members and relatives surrounded Donna Largo at Tribal Unity Park on Saturday as she effortlessly weaved grass into a tight knot.

Clean the grass, slice it down, soak it for a while, and then start the tight weaving, she said, just like had been done generations ago.

In the old days, she said, the baskets "were woven so tight, you could carry water in them.'

For the fifth year in a row, the San Manuel Cultural awareness program has hosted Largo, a 58-year-old member of the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians near Hemet, to teach traditional basket-weaving with grass and willow on the San Manuel reservation. Her son, David Largo, 32, also came to teach traditional pottery making.

About 30 people, San Manuel tribal members, their spouses and kids, came to learn an important part of their culture that many had forgotten. The classes are this weekend and next.

"Five years ago, this wasn't going on,' said San Manuel tribal member James Ramos, 38, who runs the program. "You see the kids here doing their baskets, and it stimulates them to learn our culture.

"Once you learn, nobody can take that away from you.'

James Ramos' daughter, Vanessa Ramos, 18, and her friend, Laurena Tamayo, 15, don't have as much experience as Largo, but they can make their own baskets.

"Every year, I have to start a new one because I don't remember where (the baskets) are,' she said.

Largo said she first learned how to make the baskets in 1970, when she was working for an Indian education program in the Hemet school district. She asked a woman to come in and teach the students about basket weaving and ended up learning a lot about the skill herself.

Then five years ago, Ramos asked Largo to teach her basket-weaving skills at the San Manuel reservation.

She said basket weaving is a craft that has been lost even though the baskets were very important to previous generations.

Many of the older ones, now in museums, had designs that tell stories or specifically represented death, marriage or puberty rites.

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