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ITITAMAT

Although I moved around to several Indian reservations growing up, I consider my childhood home to be the Yakima Valley in central Washington State where I lived until leaving for college. Years ago while researching the Yakima Indians (whose reservation I lived on), I became aware of a fascinating custom once practiced by women from the various “Plateau Tribes” of that region (bordered on the west by the Cascade Mountains and on the east by the Rockies). They would construct what was called the Ititamat, or “Time Ball.* After a woman was married she would record the events of her life on an ever-extending length of spun hemp. She would register each day by tying a knot, and on days marked by a birth, death or some extraordinary event, she would attach a bead, shell or some special object. Over time this ball of hemp would grow so large that she would need to start another.

What struck me the most about the Ititamat was its exquisite spatialization of time; history and memory were so poignantly represented along the length of a punctuated line of hemp. On the opposite page are examples of my sporadic efforts of homage to the Ititamat. My earliest stabs consisted of a series of digital photographs I took of simple “close line” rope with randomly spaced knots. These pieces ultimately influenced an ongoing series of small paintings that I return to off and on.

*Here I am indebted to an old family friend and noted scholar, Mary Dodds Schlick, for helping me with some background. She mentions the Ititamat briefly in her book, Columbia River Basketry: Gift of the Ancestors, Gift of the Earth, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1994.


COPYRIGHT © 2010, STEVEN BARIS