The Dapuwan Collection

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. 

The Weaving Process

Banana textile production is a long and laborious process that involves several months of work before a single piece is completed. Woven on manually operated looms, banana fiber is low impact and a sustainable alternative to resource-intensive cotton and other petroleum-based fibers. The banana plant used is grown locally in the backyards of the weavers and farmers of Shinshe.

1. Before a banana tree is cut down, a Kavalan ritual called Basbaw is performed to honor the Kavalan ancestors. 

2. Sheaths are stripped off the banana plant stem with a machete, and unwanted pith is scraped out.

3. The fibers are dried in the sun for several days before being soaked in water to dissolve the starch. They are then dried a second time. 

4. Once dry, the fibers are cut into thin strips using a needle, dyed with local plants, and then knotted into yarn. 

5. Only when there are enough balls of yarn can the artisans start weaving. Weaving alone can take up to a month, depending on the complexity of the design.