There are still Yavapai and Apache basket weavers who take pride in their work. Donna Knightpipe is one of the few Yavapai-Apaches still weaving flat baskets. Knightpipe’s work is featured at the prestigious Heard Museum and she has offered workshops in various communities in the Yavapai country. All of the basketry parts are willow sprigs gathered from the nearby Verde River that bisects the Middle Verde community. There is a large abundance of willow and provides an endless supply of willow for basket weavers. These baskets are used primarily for gathering food in the nearby mountains.
Vincent Randall, Apache elder and culture director (2016) said that change came in the woven forms. “In the early days, baskets had minimal designs.During reservation days and later, when the baskets became tourist items, woven baskets took on more omcplex designs”.
It was also partially on the insistence of reservation traders who encouraged basket weavers to place more intricate designs on their baskets. Randall said that because of taboos against keeping personal belongings of dead people, all personal possessions were burned. Therefore, there was no evidence of pre-reservation signs of baskets that were woven during that era. “We were fine basket makers to begin with and just adding the Devil’s Claw and other colors into it (baskets), tourists could now buy them,” added Randall. From then on, baskets with intricate designs were in high demand and the basket technology evolved into an art form according to Randall.
Randall recalls a moment in time when there was an old trading post in Roosevelt Dam that catered to basket makers in the 1950s. “They use to have lots of baskets on the wall. They were becoming valuable so the owner stopped selling the baskets and began to collect the basket himself. He had quite a collection,” recall Randall.
Some baskets were large,as large as 4 feet high but what could be stored in such big baskets? Since Apaches were agrarian farmers and more nomadic food gathers, it was obvious the big baskets were simply woven as an art form to be sold to collectors such as the trading post owner.
Naa’ii’ess is a puberty rite ceremony for females coming into adulthood. Traditional Apache elder Vincent Randall best describes this event:
“When people live off the land and travel all the time, when a girl became of age, there was a massage ceremony for her. The parents would let it be known that they have a young lady coming into their midst and they would call upon a spiritual man to come and pray. And then, they would call upon an older lady who could be her grandmother on the paternal side or on the maternal side who would do the massage (which would signify the training to become a mature woman). The spiritual man would do a prayer and sing four songs. A date would be set so that the parents of the girl would be introduced as a young woman to their social clan member and relatives within the vicinity. They would gather up presents and would all come together that morning again and the spiritual man would just pray or sing four songs. After that was over, the young woman would become of age and would hand out presents that her family had gathered to all those that came so that she would show generosity. From that day on, her training began on how to be a lady, how to prepare foods, to use herbs and how to on the spiritual side of life what is expected of her when she had children–all these things were the beginning”.