While the Philippines has successfully put its piña fabric, the clothing made of pineapple leaves, into the mainstream of the fashion industry, let’s move further forward and identify another possible source of our basic need – that is, clothing, hoping to revive the tradition and lifestyle that our forefathers used to have. I’m not talking about getting back to the primitive era here. Rather, I mean that it’s about time to adapt a lifestyle that is friendly to our personal health as well as to the environment that we live in; although, it’s prudent to preserve tradition and culture.
Let’s explore, then, the rich textile tradition of the people of the Okinawan Islands.
The independent kingdom of ‘Ryukyu’, which covers the Okinawan islands (before it was relinquished to Japan), had been known for its rich textile weaving industry, using plant fibers. Among the plant-based textiles they made was the bashôfu, or the banana fiber cloth.
In the 13th century, the Okinawans weaved kimonos and other traditional clothes from a specific variety of the banana plant, called ito bashô in Japanese. The word fu means fabric or cloth; thus, the term bashôfu.
Extraction of the banana fiber was done manually and the process was quite tedious, requiring skills and a lot of patience. Because of this, weavers found it difficult to mass-produce the cloth. Also, the presence of readily available and low cost fabrics, such as cotton, silk, and other synthetic cloths hampered them to put banana-made clothes into the mainstream of commerce. And, of course, the ongoing World War II was a major factor in the decline of the banana-weaving industry.
Fortunately, though, weaving and use of bashôfu was revived, and even accelerated after the war and when Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972. Since then, bashôfu has been receiving considerable attention as Japan’s important intangible cultural properties.
Types of banana
There are three major types of banana plants, namely: the food source (the plantain and sweet banana); the decorative plants, and; the starch and fibers sources. The popular abaca fiber, also known as Manila hemp, comes from the third type of banana.
Extraction processes of banana fiber
Banana fiber properties
Banana is a natural bast fibre, having its own physical and chemical properties of fine quality. It has been proven to have these unique qualities:
- it resembles the fiber from ramie and bamboo, but it is finer than the two
- banana fiber can be spun in almost all methods of spinning, such as, bast fiber spinning, open-end spinning, semi-worsted spinning, or ring spinning. In other words, its spinnability is better than other fibers.
- it can be as soft as organza silk when refined using traditional techniques
- lustrous and lightweight
- very high tensile strength
- low in elongation
- has a high moisture absorption capacity
- repels grease and water
- remains extremely flexible
- it dries quickly
- fire resistant
- comes from a renewable resource
Why we should patronize banana clothing
Banana is grown in 129 countries around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, India, Hawaii, and some Pacific islands. It is the fourth most important global food crops, serving our different needs such as fruit and food sources, and food wrapping (leaves).
Banana plants are sustainable. It takes only about 12 to 16 months to yield. But, once the fruits are harvested, banana stems seem to have no more use but to be dumped in landfills. And there are billion tons of stems that are wasted annually in banana plantations. Good thing that our ancestors found a way to utilize these otherwise waste materials. They saw that these junk banana stems can actually provide us with a sustainable source of fabric that helps us reduce our dependence on synthetic fibers.
Of course, we know that production of synthetic fibers requires chemical-based fertilizer, pesticides, extra energy, and other non-biodegradable elements that are harmful to both the environment and people.
By advocating banana-made products, especially clothing, we are promoting organic and sustainable lifestyle as well as helping the banana-weaving industry to flourish. And of course, we are reducing wastes at the landfills.
Other products from banana fiber
Aside from clothing, banana fiber also makes a good material for:
- tea bags
- Japanese yen notes
- bed sheets and other household items
- cement bags that can carry 25-kilogram weight
- material to reinforce a vehicle’s interior parts
- novelty items