This is a bast fibre extracted from the Abaca plant, Musa textilis, also known as manilla hemp, an inedible species of banana native to the Philippines and grown solely in the Philippines, Equator and Costa Rica. A mature plant grows 10–30 stalks from a central root system, each one of these growing up to 20′ (50.8 cm) high; after an initial 18–24 month establishing period, each plant is harvested every 3–8 months for about ten years. The leaves that grow from the base of the plant and wrap around the core like sheaves, are stripped, scraped and retted to release strong cellulose fibres.
Abaca has been known to the Western world since the early 1800’s, primarily replacing hemp and flax in making marine ropes. The long fibres are perfectly suited to weaving and to paper making, which makes abaca a major export material with a bright future. Although rope per se is less important now, cord – ‘mini rope’- is increasingly woven into very lovely flooring and furniture, alongside the traditional craft works and tourist market demand for baskets and place mats. It is equally used in car body parts in place of glass fibre. As paper, it supplies a vast global demand for tea bags, coffee bags, bank notes, filter papers and writing paper.
The Filipino peoples are renowned for their beautiful clothing and very fine cloth woven from abaca. Each tribe knows the textile by a different name–Tinalak to the T’boli, Inabel to the Bagobo, Inabu to the Manobo, Dagmay to the Mandaya, Mabuel to the B’laan and Habulan to the Higaonon.
” It takes time but the result is great “
Many textile visitors s to the Phillipines will remember coming across ‘The Last Bagobo Weaver’, Salinta Monon, who was still working when she died in 2009 at the age of 91. It took her four months to weave each stunningly beautiful length of abaca–Inabel (a length being 350 x 42 cm wide x 350 cms in length. (c.a. x=16.5” x 138” )), enough for just four skirts.