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Ye'kwana man and basket
Ye’kwana of Venezuela

Ye'kwana of Venezuela - Lifestyle and Baskets

In addition to what the river provides the Ye'Kwana rely on their land to provide the food that they consume. Within this plot of land they grow bananas, pineapples, sugarcane, chili peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and tobacco. The tubular vegetable called bitter yucca or cassava is the staple of the Ye'Kwana diet.

In order to consume bitter yucca (manihot utilissima) the Ye'Kwana must go through an elaborate process to prepare it as it contains poisonious prussic acid. Much of the beautiful basketry that the Ye'kwana produce for sale are pieces or modifications of pieces that are used in this process.

The yucca is first peeled and grated. The grated pulp is then stuffed into a long woven tubular sleeve called a tingkui (the most difficult of all the baskets to make). The tungkui is hung on a hook, a pole is inserted into the bottom to apply pressure and stretch the tingkui. As the tingkui stretches it narrows and squeezes the prussic acid out of the pulp. Once the pulp is dry and chalky, it is pressed through a round woven sieve called a manade, after which it has the consistency of flour. The flour is then used to make large flat cassava bread which is cooked on grills.

While the women are the ones in charge of the cassava production it is the men who weave most of the baskets. It is a matter of great importance and survival that the men develop expertise in weaving the various styles of baskets, and so most boys begin practicing weaving baskets as early as 10 years old. Traditionally, it is only after a young man proves his weaving skill that a father considers a young man an acceptable marriage prospect for his daughter.

The men of the Ye'kwana are responsible for weaving the tudi - the carrying basket, the wariwari - fan for the cooking fire, the waja tingkuihato, and the waja tomennato(painted waja).

Click on these links to read more about the Ye'kwana Project, History and Geography