The Art of Oaxacan Palm Fiber Baskets

by Stephanie Gardner

Since starting to work with basket weavers, Juan and Juanita in 2019, I’d wanted to visit them in their home in San Pedro Jocotipac—a small village up a long gravel road, four hours outside of Oaxaca de Juarez.

I first met Juan and Juanita at the San Pablo cultural center. After talking with them for about ten minutes they invited me to have lunch at their daughter, Flor’s, restaurant, El Mixtequito. We all squeezed in their truck and got to know each other over a delicious meal of rice, chicken, and mole. Their kindness and hospitality surprised me then, but has been extended to me over and over again in these last few years.

I wanted to know everything about where palma comes from. What does the plant look like? How is it cultivated? Is the palm grown organically? How do they process it? How do they weave it? As soon as Juan and Juanita heard I was living in Oaxaca long term, they insisted I come visit them, to see it all with my own eyes.

In the Garcia family, the creation process of palm fiber baskets is a totally sustainable process with its roots in indigenous practices. They harvest leaves from palm trees growing in the wild. There has never been the need to cultivate the palms, as what the land provides has always been enough. This is due to the respectful and reciprocal relationship they maintain with the land and the plants. They never over harvest palm leaves, only taking two leaves from a plant at a time, so the plant can quickly regenerate and continue to thrive. This honorable harvest benefits both artisans and the palm forests. I felt blessed to witness this sustainable and effective mode of production working today, in our modern world.

Once the leaves are dry they’re ready to be cut, sorted, and woven. This is when we get to see the mastery present in the hands of the people who have been weaving palma since they were children. Almost without looking, they weave intricate patterns and beautiful designs. Their work is delicate, complex, and playful, as they are always joking and telling stories as they work.

Palm fiber baskets are special for so many reasons. They connect you to the heart of Oaxaca, its people, their land, and to a craft that’s been an integral part of the lives of indigenous people for thousands of years.