Banana Fiber Weaving
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Mount Lalaban, Xinshe is where some of the few banana fiber weavers of Taiwan create in the company of their beloved dogs Xiaohei and Machi. This art form is unique to the Kavalan, one of the sixteen officially recognized indigenous tribes in the island nation. They once inhabited the plains in northeastern Taiwan but were forced to move southward due to clashes with the Qing dynasty settlers and their land being taken over in the name of development. They started their search for their ethnic identity in the 1980s and were only federally recognized in 2002.
One won’t find it hard to stumble across a banana plant in Shinshe. The Kavalan use them as an alternative to sisal to make fabric because they are easier to grow, and their fibers are softer. No part of the plant goes to waste - the Kavalan eat the fruit and draw banana silk from its stem; what’s left of the plant is used as fertilizer.
Banana fiber weaving is at risk of disappearing. Today, there are fewer than ten weavers in Taiwan, most well into their 60s, 70s, and 80s and not natively Kavalan. Every step in making the product - harvesting the banana plant, processing its fibers, and weaving - is done by hand. The whole process is time-consuming and thus has not appealed to the younger generations of the tribe. Each fabric weaved is an ode to their ancestors and to the mountains and seas they call their home.