Ponta Delgada- Just like wood, vegetable fibers were one of the first natural resources used by the Azorean settlers. They could easily find them on reeds, bamboo canes, bulrushes, wickers and dragon trees. But farming also produced other vegetable elements like corn leaf and wheat straw.
At first sight, these were just natural resources used to make fire or feed the animals. But the Azoreans are a creative and innovative people and they looked further, producing many objects from vegetable fibers, such as baskets.
Many years ago, the basket had a leading role in those societies so they could carry and keep different goods and products. And that’s why they needed to choose durable and resistant materials like rattan. Even today, rattan baskets are made based on traditional methods: the rattan is the boiled in volcanic calderas and the artisanal technique of “armar” (build) is used.
You’re wrong if you think basket art is the same among the nine islands: each island has their own characteristics. However, there are some types of baskets common to all the islands. They are a valuable testimony of the traditional Azorean basketry – the “sebe,” used in the oxcarts”, and the “seirão,” a cylindrical, rude and tall basket that, in pairs, is filled with agricultural products and carried by animals. Today, despite its utility, baskets have also become a decorative element.
There’s a saying in Portugal that goes, “From the pig everything is used.” In the Azores they could adapt that to: “In nature, everything is used too.” For example, berries and seeds are also transformed by artisans’ creativity. The best example is the “Terços de Romeiro,” a rosary made from them.
This is a religious tradition of São Miguel Island that started in the 16th century after the volcanic eruption that devastated its main town, Vila Franca do Campo. With simple pliers and cutting tips, craftsmen shape the wire to separate the 59 tips , or “Tears of Mary,” that, by gift of nature, were born glazed and pierced.
An original and different type of handcraft that joins the long list of materials used by the Azoreans are: basalt, fish scale, and scrimshaw, among others.