wapaas (Root-Digging Bag)

About this object

History of use

This woven bag is used when root-digging. The Wasco or Wishxam people gather vegetables, such as camass bulbs, among the dry hills of their traditional territories adjacent to the Columbia River. A digging stick is used to remove bulbs, which are then placed in a bag which is worn about the waist.


Mary Dodds Schlick notes that: "Archaeologists have found remnants of Indian hemp cordage and textiles in the earliest Columbia River sites. Experts at utilizing the resources at hand, the people also used the bark of hazelnut and willow root, and possibly of other shrubs, as well as tule and cattail for the foundation materials in the soft twined bags (1994:57)." Recently introduced materials such as burlap, flax, cornhusks, yarn, raffia and hemp are now also commonly used.

Iconographic meaning

The designs represent animals, butterflies, and fish. Robin Wright of the Burke Museum notes that: "Stylistic similarities between these basketry designs and prehistoric bone and stone sculpture from the area indicates that this design system had a long prehistoric development among the people of the Columbia River (1991:75)."

Specific techniques

Double strand twining was used to weave this basket.

Physical description

Cylindrical basketry bag with leather sewn to rim. The rim also has leather ties attached on one side and a cotton string looped through the top of the basket on the opposite side. Cotton string is used for the wefts at the base, but a natural fibre is used for the main body of the basket and for the warps. Some of the warps are dyed a dark brown, but most of them are a yellowish brown colour. The body of the basket is completely decorated with designs, in dark brown, which are arranged in vertical columns. Some of them represent butterflies, quadraped animals (dogs ?), fish, and diamonds.