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History of fique fiber

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What's the fique fiber?

Fique is a natural fibre that grows in the leaves of plants in the genus Furcraea. They include around twenty different species and some of them are used to extract from his leaves the textile fibre known as fique (or colloquially ascabuya).

The fique plant is big and straight; its leaves are large, thick and of green colour. In order to produce the fique fibre the fique leaves are cut close to the stem, leaving at least fifteen-twenty leaves for plant in order to allow it to continue its biological process.

The weaving of natural fibres was at the base of the economy and culture of the populations that used to live in the territory now occupied by Colombia before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. The population known as the ‘Guanes’ used to live in the Southeast of the current Department of Santander and part of the Departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacà.

They were skilled in working with ceramics and used to make high-quality blankets and other objects in cotton and fique. The fique fiber was useful to the Guanes as coats and body ornaments. The cotton fibre was elegantly worked; in its manufacturing process intricate decorations were used painted or weaved with different colours. On the other hand, the fique fibre was used as clothing accompaniment – hair ornament, bags and mochilas that are still produced nowadays in the region.

The remains of the Guanes culture that have arrived to us, much of which are textile remains, have a special anthropological importance due to the lack of information over the details of the Guanes culture.

The textile knowledge of the Guanes survived the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors by incorporating new technologies up to the present times. Until the beginning of the twentieth century No new techniques had been implemented to ease the most tedious and difficult tasks of working the fique fiber such as the shredding of the fique plant.

The major technological advancement in four centuries was the adoption of the loom brought to America by the Spaniards which substituted the rudimentary vertical looms used by the Guanes. Nonetheless, nowadays we can still encounter artisans and farmers who know how to use the vertical loom. As well there are still some artisans who shred the fique leaves in between two rods with a rudimentary tool of ancient origin which was not substituted with motorised machines until half of the twentieth century. These machines are the ones most commonly used nowadays even though they can present several risk for the workers that use them.

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