Photo: Kirstin Roper, © NHMU

Preserving Culture

Contemporary Diné (Navajo) basket weavers are both agents of change and keepers of tradition. Diné basket making very nearly disappeared. By the early twentieth century, only a few families in the isolated Douglas Mesa area of Tsé Bii’ndzisgai (Monument Valley) continued to weave the traditional ts’aa’ (ceremonial basket). These families preserved this important cultural practice by changing and adapting. The images on contemporary baskets are new, but the production of the baskets—from gathering the raw materials to the finish of the rim—follows ancient traditions imbued with meaning. The new designs themselves provide a vehicle for sharing traditional stories, ceremonies, and history. Mary Holiday Black speaks passionately of the baskets as a form of cultural preservation. By visually representing stories once shared orally only at certain times of year, the baskets help transmit Diné beliefs and values within the Diné community as well as to wider audiences eager to learn about Diné culture.