MAKING PAPER BY HAND FROM FIBERS OF BANANA LEAVES & MOTHER-IN-LAW TONGUE BLADES

These photos were taken on February 9, 2010 in the Maya village of San Felipe just northeast of the town of Xcalakoop, central Yucatán, seven or eight kms east of the ruins of Chichén Itzá. The man doing the work is known to everyone as Don Pascual.

First Don Pascual cuts Mother-in-law Tongue, Sansevieria thyrsiflora, a native of southern Africa, and growing abundantly as a weed in the Yucatan.

cutting Mother-in-law Tongue for fiber

Then he snips the Mother-in-law Tongue into small pieces.

Snipping Mother-in-law Tongue for fiber

Mother-in-law Tongue pieces soften in a tub for three days and nights.

Mother-in-law Tongue pieces soften in a tub for three days and nights.

Concurrently the same snipping and softening process has been taking place with pieces of banana leaf, which soften in a reddish mush. Both buckets contain caustic soda to help disintegrate the leaves.

Banana leaf snippets being softened for fibers used in paper

Fibers from the two sources, at about a 50:50 ratio, are mixed with quick movements of the hand.

Fibers from the two sources are mixed with quick movements of the hand.

Handfuls of mixed fibers are plopped into a mold consisting of two wooden frames and close-meshed wire.

Handfuls of mixed fibers are plopped into a mold consisting of two wooden frames and close-meshed wire.

With the mold filled with mixed fibers, Don Pascual approaches his paper-making table.

With the mold filled with mixed fibers, Don Pascual approaches his paper-making table.

With a deft flip, the fibers are dumped onto the working surface.

With a deft flip, the fibers are dumped onto the working surface.

 

The fibers are blotted through the frame's wire screen.

Soon the frame is removed, the fibers are blotted again, and then pounded lightly with a special pounder.

Soon the frame is removed, the fibers are blotted again, and then pounded lightly with a special pounder.

The moist mass of fiber is squared up.

The moist mass of fiber is squared up.

The hand-carved, wooden pounder.

The hand-carved, wooden pounder.

A close-up of the fibers.

A close-up of the fibers.

The paper begins to dry but the neighbors who have stood around pretending to pay no attention see no reason to go home.

The paper begins to dry but the neighbors who have stood around pretending to pay no attention see no reason to go home.