The use of banana stems as a source of fibre declined after other convenient fibres such as cotton and silk became popular. But in recent years the commercial value of banana fibre has increased and it is used all over the world for multiple purposes from making tea bags and sanitary napkins to Japanese yen notes and car tyres. Avneet Kaur writes about the story of banana fibres, explaining in detail its use in ancient times, its characteristics, the extraction process and the possible uses of the eco-friendly fibres in the textile industry.
What was earlier regarded as agricultural waste and a nuisance for farmers is now a raw material for good quality silk grade fibre yarn.
That's the story of banana fibre. Also known as musa fibre, it is one of the strongest natural fibres. This biodegradable natural fibre from the bark of the banana plant is so durable that if we make currency notes from it, the notes can be used for more than a hundred years. It can be used to make silk grade saris and just as it can be used in car tyres.
Banana stem, hitherto considered a complete waste, is now is now being made into banana-fibre cloth which comes in differing weights and thicknesses based on what part of the banana stem the fibre was taken from. The innermost sheaths are where the softest fibres are obtained, and the thicker and sturdier fibres come from the outer sheaths.
Made up of thick-walled cell tissue and bonded by natural gums, banana fibre is similar to natural bamboo fibre but its fineness and spin ability are better bamboo and ramie fibres. It is mainly composed of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin.
When, Where, and How?
According to archaeologists, the banana was first domesticated in the Kuk valley of New Guinea around 8,000 BCE. Though this is the first known location of banana domestication, other spontaneous domestication projects may have occurred throughout South East Asia and the South Pacific.
Historically, banana stems had been used as a source of fibre with the earliest evidence dating to the 13th century. But its popularity faded after other convenient fibres such as cotton and silk were made popular. For centuries, banana fibre textiles were made in Japan and Nepal.
In Japan, banana fibres were a prized substitute for silk and were traditionally woven into ceremonial garments for the wealthy. In both Nepal and Japan, the outermost sheaths of the banana plant were used for making cloth that was not intended for articles of clothing. Coarser banana cloth was used for place mats, floor mats and sun shades.
Initially, people in Japan and Nepal realised that except for the fruit, the complete banana tree is cut and thrown as a waste. After exploring the tree, they figured out that the stalk can be used to make strong ropes. Eventually, they discovered other uses of banana fibre.
Today, banana fibre is used all over world for multiple purposes. Commercial value of the fibre has increased over the years. Transforming the waste into a usable fabric and other products is a great achievement.