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Banana Fiber

Hualien, Taiwan

" The memory of Kavalan Weaving Craft ,a once-lost artisanal culture, restored for future generations."

Driving down along the Hualien-Taitung Coastal Highway No.11, arriving at the Fengbin Township in Hualien County, where nestled between mountains and the gentle embrace of the sea is the Xinshe Tribe(新社部落), home to the "Drifting People" of the Kavalan indigenous group. Here, there is a unique local workshop known as "Lala Ban," the only banana fiber workshop of its kind in Taiwan.

For Kavalan people of the Xinshe Tribe, this place holds profound significance. It is not just a space dedicated to reviving traditional crafts but also a place where the community reconnects with its roots through hands-on activities.

A Kavalan woman doing weaving_edited.jpg
A Dressed-up Kavalan Woman (Kay Awen) Using Kavalan Weaving Loom
( From : Mackay 1895)
The front of Lalaban Banana Fiber Workshop ( 新社香蕉絲工坊 )

PateRungan ( 新社部落 ) -
A harbor where ships berth, embracing our newfound home.

The Kavalan people originally inhabited the Lanyang Plain ( 蘭陽平原 ) , where they peacefully lived for thousands of years. However, starting in the 18th century, Han Chinese migrants from the mainland gradually advanced eastward, claiming land for cultivation. They used force to occupy territories, forcing the Kavalan people to leave. Consequently, the Kavalan people faced several waves of displacement.

In 1878, the most severe armed conflict erupted due to the Qing Dynasty's policy of opening up new lands and pacifying indigenous people. The surviving Kavalan people relocated to the Xinshe area in Fengbin, Hualien, they rebuilt the new tribe called PateRungun (新社部落), and hiding among the Amis people (a different indigenous group) .

The disappearance of their ethnic identity lasted for over a hundred years.


Since 1980, the Kavalan people began a campaign for ancestral reconnection and official recognition. After nearly 20 years of effort, they successfully achieved official recognition in 2002, becoming the eleventh recognized indigenous group in Taiwan. Throughout the process of seeking recognition, the Kavalan people worked to showcase their distinctive cultural characteristics. To demonstrate their tribe's uniqueness, the "Banana Fiber Weaving Craft," exclusive to the Kavalan people, held significant importance.

Source / CC BY National Museum of Taiwan History

Taiwanese Banana - A Sweet Taste of Nostalgia for a Generation in Japan

In Taiwan, bananas (scientifically known as Musa X paradisiaca) hold a significance akin to oranges in Japan, once emblematic fruits in Taiwan's history. Originally, Taiwan only had wild bananas, but it was during the Japanese colonial period that they were crossbred with foreign varieties, resulting in the distinct aroma and flavor of Taiwanese bananas that we know today.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Taiwan exported a large quantity of bananas to Japan, becoming a major source of foreign exchange and earning Taiwan the international reputation as the "Banana Kingdom." Despite facing challenges from Philippine bananas in the market since the 1960s, Taiwanese bananas still hold a special place in the hearts of older generations of Japanese people, a testament to their enduring popularity.


From Banana Tree to Fabric: A Journey of tracing the roots

After successfully reclaiming their name, the Kavalan people, settled in the Xinshe Tribe, realized that their tribal memories had long been dispersed. In response, they established the "Kavalan Development Association of Hualien County" and embarked on cultural and historical research, hoping to rediscover their lost culture. Among these efforts, banana fiber craft emerged as a significant endeavor.


To revive the nearly lost craft, association members scoured every corner of the tribe and eventually found three elders who had inherited the craft of banana fiber weaving: Zhu Abi (朱阿比), Pan Ayu (潘阿玉), and the eighty-one-year-old shaman, Pan Wuji (潘烏吉)( 3 of the artisans have successively passed away. )

Over 20 years of diligent effort, the elders passed on their skills from childhood to young artisans, finally completing the intergenerational transmission spanning centuries.

The National Treasure artisan Pan Wuji ( also called as Ibay in Kavalan name, 1931 ~ 2019 )
The National Treasure artisan Yan Yuying ( Aing Banday in Kavalan name, 1938 ~ )
The younger generation of artisans weaving on the floor.

The process of   making banana fiber

The banana fiber craft can also be found in other banana-producing countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia. In Japan's Okinawa, there's also "Bashofu," but each region's varieties and processes differ.

In Taiwan, bananas are divided into two main types based on their growing locations: flatland bananas and hillside bananas, with numerous sub-varieties. The variety used by Lalaban Banana Fiber Workshop is a type of "Bei Banana." It's an annual plant, the fibers have characteristics such as stout pseudo-stems, robust fibers, rich moisture content, and elasticity, while the banana fruits are also edible.

The optimal season for the Kavalan people to make banana fiber is from April to September. During this period, they take advantage of the abundant sunlight to process the banana leaf sheaths, which have not yet flowered or fruited, through a series of steps including layering, sun-drying, and spinning to produce banana fiber.

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