Sisal and Haiti Agriculture, Culture, and Triumph in Tribulation

I want to talk about some natural fibres in one particular part of the world that is unique, that part of the world is Haiti, which is under a great amount of duress at the moment following some tribulations and trials (or ‘trials and tribulations’ in the early part of 2016) in the country.

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But first, I want to discuss or point out some of the basic information around natural fibres in the world, and then that part of the world. Natural fibres are composed of mineral, plant, and animal fibres. They can decompose. Mineral fibres only have one kind as far as I have discovered/learned, which is asbestos. Plant fibres are made of cellulose primarily and come from plants, of course. Animal fibres are composed of amino acids linked together in chains or proteins. Animal fibres come from a variety of fauna including camels, alpacas, and others.

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Synthetic fibres and man-made fibres differ from natural fibres in that they do not decompose and are prominently seen in such things as polyester. Polyester being made primarily in mainland China based on consumer demand from Europe and North America, I assume.

With respect to Haiti, they have a proverb that says, ‘Bèf pa di savann mèsi.” The ox does not thank the field. That’s probably true. Or “Bèl cheve pa lajan.” Good hair is not money. For a poor country, which often lacks for the basics of life, then this makes perfect sense. You wear clothes for livelihood or to just have clothing, not as a frivolous garment. What is Haiti?

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Haiti is a Caribbean country in or sharing the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is to East. In 2010, it had a terrible earthquake. That earthquake devastated much of the country, and the country has upwards of 10 million people in it. In Canada, we have approximately 36 to 37 million people. It’s teeny little place with a tremendous number of human beings. The capital is Port-au-Prince. And its official language is Haitian Creole French or French. Recently, a deadly attack was conducted on a Haitian police headquarter as tensions arose in February. The tensions arose and individuals in military fatigues attacked at night in the coastal city of Les Cayes.

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Gunmen stormed police headquarters on Monday and killed 6 people in an apparent shootout at a police station. Could the country be close to a civil war? One of the problems with the possibility for the civil war at the present moment is in light of the fact that the country was unable to sign in a new president because it missed a deadline to do so.

The individuals that committed the crime seized automatic weapons. Some of these murderous activities stem from February in terms of a political disagreement for the Caribbean nation. It failed to hold a runoff election. In other words, both deadlines were missed.

How does this relate to the natural fibres? Look at the people, look at the frustration, look at the clothes, it’s all intertwined.  One giant interconnected web.  Sisal, itself, has actually been used in terms of content materials for furniture and construction in addition to cars and plastics and paper products. The plant is quite hardy and can grow year round in hot climates and even in arid or dry regions that are typically unsuitable for other crops.

It does have a difficult time in growing in very moist or saline, salty, soil. It does show that it is resilient to disease, and it is typically harvested after about 2 years from its original planting and its productive cycle or life cycle can be up to 12 years, in which it can produce up to a total of 180 to 240 leaves for its growth depending on the level of rainfall, the altitude, and the location.

So, this can be of great use to areas such as Haiti in terms of its productive capacity and its capability provide for its own needs with such things as natural fibres. Or by making animal feed. It is interesting to note that the leaves themselves are about 90% moisture and yet still have a rigidity. It seems counterintuitive to me. In terms of its average yield, the dry fibres come to about one ton per hectare. Although, it is reported that East African crop for this fibre can grow up to four tonnes per hectare. That is an astonishing four-fold increase in the amount of fibre that is growing per hectare. What else is Haiti?

It’s a religious nation among many other things with about ¾ as Roman Catholic and 3/20ths Protestant with a sprinkling of Pentecostal, Advent, and the universalist religion of “other.” So, by any reasonable definition, a Christian influenced nation. They have another proverb: “Bondye bon.” Or God is good, sounds familiar? For whatever reason, I don’t know why, but this is bringing to mind Bach’s Cantata 54, BWV 54, for me, which went as follows:

Widerstehe doch der Sünde,
Sonst ergreifet dich ihr Gift.
Laß dich nicht den Satan blenden;
Denn die Gottes Ehre schänden,
Trifft ein Fluch, der tödlich ist.

In Standard English as a translation of the old German, this says:

Stand firm against sin,
otherwise its poison seizes hold of you.
Do not let Satan blind you
for to desecrate the honour of God
meets with a curse, which leads to death.

So, what, Scott? God is good, but Satan is tempting and sin is bad. Well, if it’s this kind of a religious nation, and we have good reason to expect this form of religiosity provide the numbers of the religious or Christian population in its citizenry, then the metanarrative for Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity incorporate these narratives. Besides, those are damn good proverbs by my reading, and fabulous music by Bach too. It’s like double-bubble.

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Sisal is also a major part of agriculture in the north coast region of Haiti. And it is used for rope, wallpaper, rugs, and other daily items of use to citizens of Haiti in various combinations and to different communities. Near the conclusion of sisal’s lifespan, it can grow to upwards of 15 feet in height and can have numerous plants and baby plants linked with it.

In other words, it is an abundant source of fibre for the Haitian people. The waste that is not used for ropes, rugs, and so on, is actually used to make, by a particular process, fertilizer or food for animals.

The process mentioned before is called decortication. Decortication is the crushing and beating of leaves by a rotation wheel with blunt knives. Once only the fibre remains, then the fibre is dried to get a high quality fibre by the removal of the moisture in the fibre prior to that the moisturizing process.

After that point, the fibre product is brushed and after that point it is then ready to be used for a variety of products including rope, rugs, wallpaper, and many other things of daily use in homes and various communities in Haiti.

In terms of sustainability and the ethical use of this particular fibre, it is one of the best around, especially for areas of the world where it is poor. It is one of the grand ironies, and not an original point to me or any one individual, that with climate change and global warming. That is, the advanced industrial nations are the major participants in the industries that pollute the environment, and the undeveloped nations or the poor of the world are not and are actually working to improve it. In addition, the indigenous communities of the world are the ones that are partaking in, not the industry, but the social and environmental activism to help with these global problems relevant to their local level.

There were consequences of the Industrial Revolution. We see them today. We see reactions to their consequences, of dead generations’ sins, today. On that same line of reasoning, that ‘grand irony’ of the modern era relates to one of the poorer areas of the world that are even under tremendous political turmoil and at the verge of a possible civil war, and are able to keep an industry that is both ethical and sustainable within the world.

Back to Haiti, and its fibre, sisal produces less carbon dioxide than it takes in and, therefore, it is a net negative carbon producer. It produces mainly organic wastes. To get to the close of this particular article, it is cultivated in many other areas of the world including Angola, Brazil, China, Cuba, Indonesia, Kenya, Mosinee, South Africa, and so on. And the estimated value of the 300,000 tonnes of output is upwards of 75 million dollars. I do not know the currency. It could be Canadian or American et cetera.

And following that earthquake and its own internal problems, which are, quite granted, numerous, there’s always some good, if you look close enough.

And by the light of Bach, and via the hope of Haiti: Degaje pa peche. To get by is not a sin.

And as with everything written, I could be wrong, incredibly wrong – think for yourself and come to your own conclusions. I’m human. I’m a writer. I have biases, fallibilities, and quirks – even some funny ones. My words aren’t gold, nor are they a calf. (And no bull!) Although, I will milk it.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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