Mat- and basket-weaving entail specific skills and knowledge, such as selecting and preparing the raw materials, understanding their different properties, and an adept coordination between cognition, hands, foot and mouth, along with the use of basic to special tools. Basketry knowledge also has significant links to trade routes and trading activities and adoption and transmission of new technological knowledge, skills and techniques, as well as ecological resource sustainability particularly today.
Among the vast selection of plant materials naturally available in the Philippines and utilized in making mats and baskets are bamboo (Poaceae subfamily Bambusaideae), rattan (Aracaeae/Palmae Family), buri palm (Corypha elata), pandan (Pandanus spp.), and local sedges, such as tikug (Fimbristylis spp.) and reeds. The weavers’ and users’ preference for the plant materials are also influenced by their traditional knowledge regarding the plant’s growth patterns, which are vital in the process and durability of the basket and mats. Often, a single mat or basket can be made out of a combination of different plant fibers through different weaving techniques and patterns. The inner bark of trees, such as jackfruit, banana, and hanut (hibiscus), have often been used to make carrying straps. Wood and vines also serve as rims and posts and some palm leaves are used as inner lining of double walled baskets and food cover.
Baskets act primarily as containers—for general or specific agricultural produce; for preserving, preparing, cooking or during food consumption; for household or personal items; for specialized tasks such as fishing and temporary or long term storage. They serve as protection from pests, animals and other elements, and simultaneously, aerate its contents.
They are also used for transporting agricultural produce from the field to the houses or markets and are generally carried on the head, back, hands, and shoulders, or loaded on a sled to be pulled by an animal, often a carabao or cow. Baskets are carried on the back, secured to the body with shoulder or head straps.
Head coverings, such as hats, are examples of woven basket craft that primarily function as protection from the elements, and are also considered as costumes. Hats also communicate social identity—the community or village to which a person belongs; and serves as indicators of marital status; and signifiers of the user’s gender.
Mats share both the raw materials, weaving techniques, and the general utilitarian nature of baskets—basically to set down areas for sleeping, religious and social activities, protective layer against the ground for drying grains, for baling, and even as wrap for the remains of the dead. While some baskets have dual functions, sacred and utilitarian, mats are also symbolic. They have been used to designate the dining area, demarcate space between occupant families in communal houses and house boats, and define sacred spaces as well as spaces for negotiations of nuptial agreements, communal feasts and dispute mediations.