Fique: Colombian Handicrafts from Plants to Products & the People Involved

Earlier this week, Jorge wrote a blog post about about the PET Lamp project. It’s an initiative that helps eliminate the abundance of plastic waste that contaminates the Colombian Amazon – and a perfect example of Colombian creativity and resourcefulness.

200316_613111208503_7659010_n

PET Lamps was started the Summer of 2011 – the same Summer I spent living in Colombia, also surrounded by artisans and plenty of colour.

270554_654146503443_3184699_n

For me, it wasn’t the plastic waste that turned into something fabulous, but a certain spiky plant called fique that grew around the village. It’s now considered the “Colombian national fibre”, which says something of its importance.

img_0006

Spools and spools of fique fibres fill the shelves of Colombia’s artisan shops. There was one in the village of Mogotes, in the North East of the country, where I was staying. Blues, reds, purples, greens and yellows of different sizes were stacked across from the products the are used to create: woven handbags, shoes, sacks, tapestries and dolls.

img_9965

Among them, other  local nicknacks like sombrero key chains and the little yellow, blue and red matchbox style chivas piled high with fruit and vegetables.

img_99372

What was so incredible about the fique products though, was how many people were involved in the production of one bag. I was lucky enough to be able to see the entire process and take a few photos.

215176_639003619903_7281496_n

Fique is in the same family as the pineapple plant. When it is strong, the outside leaves are cut from around the base of the new growth. This is repeated as time goes on.

img_0020
Ducking under a few plants and twisting around others, I was able to walk right up to the farmers who were harvesting the leaves in Mogotes.

img_0438

A loud buzzing sound from the machine fills the air along with the thick smell of the plant.

img_0428

Two men in yellow rubber boots and thick gloves work at opposite ends, extracting the fibre from the leaves through a shredder.

221807_640245436293_355580_n

It’s fascinating to watch.

img_0436

The leaves are pushed in and pulled back out, leaving a pile of green muck on the ground below.

img_0435

This can be used to make bi-products or as an organic fertiliser.

215635_640245261643_647408_n

When they have gathered a significant amount, the juice is squeezed out of the fibres and it’s hauled to the river by mules.

img_8995

It is a pretty common site around the village roads.

198167_614191977633_3855205_n

And down by the riverside, of course.

197569_616049195753_4577014_n

Once there, it is washed by hand with the help of a few jutting rocks.

img_9138

Sometimes a tarp is laid out to keep it clean as it’s tossed back up on the bank.

img_9139

And sometimes not…

207484_640245331503_5029457_n

Then it’s brought back up to the road where it’s strung along the road side on clotheslines to dry in the hot Colombian sun.

217605_638471216843_2968074_n

This is also common site around the village and it doesn’t take too long before the green has turned to brown.

Fique Presentation

From all of the handling, it is a bit of a tangled mess, so the dry fique needs to be untangled, much like hair is brushed, before it can be used. One day, we trekked up into the mountains, around some incredibly bumpy dirt roads, until we could no longer drive. We got out and walked the rest of the way ending at the top of a steep pathway worn into the side of a hill.

222929_644158818843_5509845_n

It is here that we encountered the man who untangles the fique. You could tell by his leathery tan skin and the veins in his hands that this is not an easy job. He has blocks of wood stacked up outside of his home, huge thick nails sticking out of the top. He takes handfuls of the dry fique fibres and repeatedly combs them through the nails, yanking to pull out the knots.

IMG_0764

It’s wound around sticks later on to transfer neatly.

226347_644159667143_570465_n

There was a woman at the house who went inside to light a fire under a black kettle.

227295_644159717043_7120950_n

She brought out cups of the popular hot drink aguapanela (basically sugarcane water) 10 minutes later. There were also two other men and two children.

224671_644159801873_8241589_n

They loved their lollipops.

226833_644159746983_5980259_n

There were also plenty of chickens running around the yard.

7577635062_f4ff514cff_b

Plus, an adorable small striped kitten.

5697365472_39f948339e_b

One of the boys brought the kitten over for me to pet.

5697364088_954c2b61d5_b

He chased his favourite two chickens and brought those over too, one tucked under each arm, with a lollipop in his mouth.

5697371174_02ab0eac81_b

The boys helped to feed the chickens.

5697369336_8fa842f197_b

Then they brought us on a tour of the property where they had more fique drying on clotheslines in the sun. We met their grandfather who was sitting in the back. He had a huge grin on his face and laughed hysterically when I showed him his photo and indicated he wanted me to take another.

5696786277_7c8a98c09a_b

It was time for a break and everyone was in good spirits and full of smiles, but it was difficult to see their remote and taxing lifestyle up in the mountains on the outskirts of a tiny village and think about all of the comforts of my own back home in New York or London.

5696784123_58179ae380_b

Eventually we made our way back down the mountain to the village, stopping to chat with another man who was standing knee deep in brown water, digging sand and throwing it up on the bank where it would be collected later and sold. Another very difficult job to do day after day for little reward.

228449_644160226023_3361333_n

We visited another woman later on who worked from her home. She’s in charge of spooling the untangled fique so it can be sold on to artisans in shops. There are different ways of doing this, but hers involved a long pole of guadua (similar to bamboo) and a foot pedal. A lot of the fique is dyed beforehand, the only part of the process I didn’t have the opportunity to see.

img_8848

A few months later, as part of the corpus christi celebrations, we were invited to watch a group of local women in Mogotes gather for a fique spooling competition.

271082_664787673453_7360300_n

 

This is serious stuff.

268319_664787977843_3408613_n

There’s a strong sense of community there and everyone gets involved in one way or another.

271063_664787448903_1368792_n

The men cheer them on whilst enjoying whiskey or aguardiente, a favourite drink of the locals.

268457_664787922953_5583500_n

Most impressive was a blind woman who was definitely giving the rest of the spoolers a run for their money. She has been spooling her whole life and hasn’t let her lack of sight stop her.

267426_664787873053_2729656_n

The whole event was unlike anything I’d seen before.

264062_664787339123_4433694_n

Some fique remains unspooled and is sold in bundles for other purposes like making lassos or ropes used in sailing or transportation.

199245_613511700913_6239510_n

It’s stored in many places we’d walk by.

188576_615100896153_6956667_n

It truly is a staple product of the area as its production touches so many people.

216560_640440764853_131296_n

There’s also an artisan work space at the main entrance to the village where I watched weaving taking place as well as the process for making shoes and many other products.

268319_664787977843_3mm408613_n

Spools of fique are sent to shops run by local people where they are bought by artisans. Many of the artisans use weaving machines and many others prefer to work by hand.

img_02601

The final products are then given as gifts to family and friends, sold to local shops or exported.

Colombian Bag2

They’re a popular tourist souvenir!

4 Thoughts on “Fique: Colombian Handicrafts from Plants to Products & the People Involved

  1. This is fantastic Steph! What an adventure to go behind the scenes and see this whole process fro start to finish. We have a similar looking plant in South Africa and the sight of hanging threads looks familiar – I wonder if our local communities have also figured out how to process and use the thread?
    Mandy recently posted…The Colours and Aromas of Belfast Christmas MarketMy Profile

    • Yea, it was a pretty incredible experience looking back on it all. Interesting you have a similar plant in SA. I bet they people of the villages use the thread. They tend to be very resourceful. Someone in Australia asked to use some of my photos as part of a presentation so I think they have the same there is as well.

  2. Very interesting project and beautifully captured in your pictures!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: